Minus-one formula echoes again

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ISLAMABAD: Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar’s remarks on the possibility of fair elections without Imran Khan and his party members on Sunday once again raised the spectre of the infamous “minus-one formula” that has haunted the country’s political battleground for decades.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the caretaker premier said that fair elections can take place without Imran or hundreds of members of his party who are jailed because they engaged in unlawful activities including vandalism and arson – a reference to the violence that rocked the country following the former prime minister’s initial arrest in May in Al-Qadir Trust case.

However, the interim PM added that the thousands of people in Imran’s party who didn’t engage in unlawful activities, “will be running the political process, they will be participating in the elections”.

Political observers were quick to detect that the approach appeared to eerily align with the strategy of the “minus-one formula,” which entails the removal of a party leader while encouraging others to seize power.

The formula, which has plagued the country’s political scene, involves the removal of leaders by external powers, leading to a power vacuum and political division within the targeted party. For decades, political figures ranging from prime ministers to lesser-known politicians have fallen victim to this strategy due to their perceived transgressions.

From the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan to the controversial hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the formula has frequently shaped Pakistan’s political trajectory. Even in recent years, the imprisonment of Nawaz Sharif just prior to the 2018 elections underscored the influence of the minus-one formula.

Moreover, the interim prime minister’s comments come amid speculation swirling rampantly lately that Imran Khan could be the next target of this notorious formula, given his strained relationship with powerful stakeholders.

In fact, Imran himself raised concerns about this possibility last September, suggesting that “imported government and its handlers are so petrified that the nation is standing firmly behind PTI, they are desperately moving on minus-one formula.”

Thus, with PM Kakar’s statement and the country’s political history in mind, the question of whether the upcoming elections can proceed without Imran Khan looms large.

Currently, Imran finds himself behind bars after being convicted in the Toshakhana case. Although he was granted bail, subsequent arrests in other cases have prevented his release.‘PM should be non-partisan’

“Prime Minister being the head of government shouldn’t have given such a statement; he should adopt a non-partisan approach and refrain himself from giving such statements,” eminent scholar Professor Dr Hassan Askari said, adding “better selection of words comes with experience.”The professor emeritus recalled that the minus-one formula has frequently come into play from the time of military rulers like Ayub Khan to Zia-ul-Haq to Pervez Musharraf till now but it has never worked in Pakistan. Several politicians have been removed in the past on different grounds, he said, Imran is now being removed on May 9 incidents.

Professor Askari explained that the minus-one formula leads to the expulsion of a certain politician and the inclusion of a politician who is more obedient, adding that it also leads to a co-option process where one continues to pursue an agenda; and finally, it leads to “carefully managed elections” to produce a desirable result.

“How do you ensure free elections by excluding a party leader like Imran Khan,” he questioned, saying PTI is one of the leading political parties in the country.

“We are repeating the same thing knowing that things wouldn’t lead to long-term stability,” Professor Askari pointed out, adding “By expulsion, you can’t deny reality.”

He regretted that the process of removing politicians that started since independence hasn’t changed yet, saying some have comfortably beaten Ziaul Haq as the only difference is that they didn’t flog people on taking part in politics like Zia.

Among other things, PM Kakar said he expects parliamentary elections to take place in the new year, dismissing the possibility that the country’s powerful military would manipulate the results to ensure that jailed former premier Imran Khan’s party doesn’t win as “absolutely absurd.”PM Kakar said it’s the Election Commission of Pakistan that is going to conduct the vote, not the military, and Khan appointed the commission’s current chief, so “why would he turn in any sense of the word against him?”

On elections, the PM said that his government “will provide all the assistance, financial, security or other related requirements” when ECP sets an exact election date. The ECP has so far announced that elections will be held in the last week of January.

To a question in the interview, whether he would recommend that judges overturn Imran’s conviction so he could run in the elections, PM Kakar said he wouldn’t interfere with decisions by the judiciary and stressed that the judiciary should not be used “as a tool for any political ends.”

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