Pakistan's parliamentary elections on Wednesday were adversely affected by allegations of preparatory maneuvering, intimidation and muzzle-bombing, writes Gul Bukhari, who was briefly kidnapped by masked men in Lahore's army neighborhood in June [
] In the major cities of the country, protests rarely accused Pakistan's powerful military of terrorism.
But they came to Central Lahore on July 1
Last Friday was the song – "ye jo dehshat gardi hai, ke keishchay wardi hai" ("the military uniform is behind this terrorism") – heard on the streets of Rawalpindi, not far from the military headquarters.
In a staggeringly shameless act, a hearing for a seven-year-old drug case involving Sharif's PML-N party comrade Hanif Abbasi was postponed from August to July 21, and a life sentence was imposed at 11:30 pm Saturday, four days before the election, effectively knocked him out of the race.
- Dismissal after abducted journalist Gul Bukhari is released
- Where journalists are subjected to harassment, threats and death
Mr Abbasi was the champion in his constituency against Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who belonged to both Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf's governments an ally of Sharif's arch rival Imran Khan, who leads the PTI party. Any focus on the merits of the case was overshadowed by indignation over the timing of the verdict.
Thousands participated in rallies to welcome Nawaz Sharif, but the media did not carry any of the protests in Lahore or Rawalpindi. Social media, on the other hand, was flooded with pictures, videos and discussions.
Contrary to the expectations of the establishment, the popularity of Sharif and his party asserted itself after being disempowered in July last year on corruption charges. His accusations of military interference awakened the imagination of the public.
To counter this, a crackdown on the media was unleashed. Market leader Geo Television was phased out in April and distribution of Pakistan's oldest daily newspaper, Dawn, has been suspended since May.
After months of financial losses, Geo reportedly agreed to the security service's demand to censor itself and adhere to strict guidelines. After this surrender, the entire industry agreed, and none of the media houses ventured to show Sharif's political rallies or the fiery speeches of his daughter.
More on Pakistan's election
With the media on their knees, it was reserved for activists on Twitter and Facebook to continue the fight. The voices here remained squeamish and openly angry at the military-judicial context, accusing them of violating their mandate and preventing voters from waging their will in the parliamentary elections.
The conversation about social media continues and thrives amidst a terrible onslaught of threats and abductions. Journalists have also been interested in social media for what they can not read on their screens or in their newspaper stories and commentaries.
Mr. Sharif seems to have won this round of battle. Considered a man who could lead a comfortable life in exile and nurture his seriously ill husband, he returned to Pakistan to be held in custody over civilian predominance. Successive opinion polls lead him against all opponents, and the repercussions of social media show that he has managed to gain sympathy for himself – and resentments against attempts by the military-juridical alliance to reshape the political landscape.
Two days before the election, an unexpected public resistance, especially in Punjab, a PML-N stronghold and until then a bastion of military power, has led to increased efforts to turn the balance in favor of the security camp's favorite, Imran Khan ,
With dwindling hopes, the public will reject Sharif and embrace the former cricketer, who has become a politician, the courts have been moved to the front lines – the example of Abbasis shock life is a typical example of this.
Obviously dozens of candidates are being disqualified, imprisoned or forced to stand for the PML-N, and journalists and social media users are being harassed in an atmosphere of terror. Sharif's party is no longer expected to push the elections on July 25.
But if his party manages anything over 90 of the 272 directly elected seats in the National Assembly, from around 130 in 2013, it could remain the largest party in parliament , This would be seen as a defense of Sharif's open opposition to the military, which has dominated Pakistan for nearly half of its history.