Major players: political parties including the PML-N, PPP, PTI, and the GHQ. Minor player: judiciary. Dormant: parliament, the ECP and NAB. The PTI would love to de-seat PM Nawaz Sharif. The PPP, on the other hand, has goals that are a lot more complex.
One, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been re-launched, yet again, and needs to make his own waves. Two, Zardari knows that for the PPP to move out of the ditch it is in the PPP would have to win big between Rawalpindi and Rahim Yar Khan, the region with 148 National Assembly seats. Three, the PPP needs to create a perception that it is ‘friendly opposition’ no more. Four, Zardari would love to generate enough heat for PM Nawaz Sharif in order for Zardari to be in a position to negotiate some sort of quid pro quo.
The PTI is on its way to exhausting legal avenues before moving on to the streets. To be certain, PM Nawaz Sharif, as of right now, faces no major legal threat – not from the judiciary, not from the yet-to-be-completed ECP, nor from the partisan NAB. The PTI – and the PAT – have the capacity to bring masses out on to the streets; the PPP does not. But, the PTI plus PPP both out on to the streets can transform into an existential threat for the PML-N government.
On the Panama leaks, the PML-N continues to be on delay-divert-derail mode. Yes, there are some internal divisions but the party carries Nawaz Sharif’s name and continues to be unipolar (read: the party has just one real source of power).
It is in the PPP’s political interest to weaken the PML-N government but a general election at this point in time is not in the PPP’s interest (because PPP would once again be routed in Punjab). Yes, there are internal divisions between the Sindh and the Punjab chapters but Zardari remains the only source of real power within.
To be sure, the only real threat to the sitting government can be the GHQ. As far as I can tell, the PML-N and the GQH are in a state of ‘Nash equilibrium’ – a “stable state of system involving the interaction of different participants, in which no participant can gain by a unilateral change of strategy if the strategy of the other participant remains unchanged.”
In simpler terms, neither the PML-N nor the GHQ is going to change its strategy unless one of them has something to gain by changing. In all probability, PM Nawaz Sharif will not unilaterally change his current strategy of placating the GHQ unless the PML-N can secure a larger share of the decision-making pie in return for disturbing the Nash equilibrium. The only other thing that can tip the Nash equilibrium is blood on the streets.
Pakistan’s elite democracy is about two things: exclusionary politics and extractionery institutions. Here’s the record: there are 27 million families in Pakistan. Of the 27 million there are 2,700 families who have routinely taken part-over and over again – in the past ten elections. Members of these 2,700 families continue to occupy 1,174 seats in the Senate, the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies (that is exclusionary politics).
For the record, Pakistani elections are an intra-elite competition. And why are Pakistanis poor? Answer: extractionery institutions. It is not because our rulers do not know the right policy mix that would make Pakistan rich but because every political party and every economic institution has been under a conscious, deliberate plan organised to benefit the rich.