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The burden of proof

Malik Muhammad Ashraf
All the political parties – including the ruling PML-N – have already launched their campaigns for the 2018 General Elections. The tempo of the campaigns is expected to swing into full gear after the announcement of a verdict by the SC in the Panama case which is eagerly awaited. The PPP (which has lost its appeal at the national level and has nothing at its credit to boast about to win the franchise of the people) and PTI (whose politics have revolved around hurling unsubstantiated allegations at the state institutions and their political opponents, particularly the PML-N), are both relying on the perceived anti-Nawaz verdict to rebuild their political fortunes.It is hard to predict what the decision of the apex court will be in the backdrop of the remarks of the honourable judges during the hearing of the case, particularly the observations that both the parties to the case were reluctant to unravel the truth and that the court could not decide the case on the basis of press clippings of the news reports and unauthenticated documents presented before it as evidence in support of the claims made in the petition. According to the internationally recognised principles of jurisprudence, the onus of proving the allegations lies with the accuser. In this particular case the PTI and other petitioners were supposed to prove their contentions right with concrete evidence acceptable to the court. On the basis of what transpired during the hearing it is difficult to draw the inference that the petitioners were able to prove their case. It was, perhaps, because of this reason that the court turned to the respondents to present the evidence to negate the claims of the petitioners. The respondents have been trying to answer the questions raised by the court and they claim to have presented all the available documentary evidence before the court. Whether the court considers it enough to repudiate the contentions of the petitioners, is also something that cannot be said with any amount of surety. Nevertheless whatever the court makes out of the protracted and convoluted case hearing is going to have some repercussions. The decision might close the case legally but it would refuse to die politically. One can only hope that the verdict delivered by the court is strictly according to the law and not tinged with sentiments of populism. How this verdict will benefit or damage the concerned parties politically cannot be predicted with utmost certainty but one thing is certain that it is going to be one of the major subjects of the election campaigns of almost all the parties. However the ability of the parties to exploit the decision to their advantage will depend on their track record in delivering to the masses, the brand of politics done by them in the past and – in the case of the ruling party – its credentials in regards to tackling the challenges confronted by the country. Perhaps that justifies an endeavour to look at their prospects from different perspectives.Supposing the verdict is against the Prime Minister and his family members, let us try to assess how much PPP can gain from it. The biggest factor against PPP is that during its five years stint it miserably failed to deliver and consequently was reduced to the status of a regional party in 2013 elections. A number of party leaders – including the two former Prime Ministers – are facing corruption charges. It is hardly an enviable position to put the government on the mat because the masses will not give credence to the rhetoric of a party which already is reputed to have myriad of skeletons in its cupboard. Though the party is now striving hard to re-organise itself in Punjab – led by Asif Zardari – its chances to turn the tables are very minimal. Political analysts believe that the worst thing that has ever happed to PPP is its leadership falling in the hands of a person like Zardari who, unfortunately, has a very tainted reputation. The performance of the party in Sind is also very dismal and there are chances that it might lose some seats even at the provincial level in the coming elections. As such it stands no chance to pose any threat to the position of the PML-N at the national level.PTI has, over the years, lost its appeal as the revolutionary party that the people initially thought it to be. Most of its stalwarts are either the turn coats or carpet baggers like the other political parties. So it cannot impress the masses with the credentials of a traditional political party. The brand of politics that’s been practised by Imran over the last three and half years, his incessant disrespect for the state institutions, his impulsive propensity to hurl unsubstantiated allegations on the state institutions and political opponents which invariably have culminated in embarrassing setbacks to him, hardly present an encouraging spectacle for the party. Imran has only focused on clinching power by hook or crook that has damaged his democratic credentials. As such he has failed to come up with any visionary programme to be able to mount an effective and credible challenge to the PML-N, though he will be making a rattling noise about the Panama case. He may win a few seats here and there but sweeping the elections with his kind of politics will remain an elusive dream for him.Even if the Prime Minister has to abdicate power in case the verdict is against him, the PML-N will still be in a position to control the damage and will comparatively be in a better position to secure enough seats to form the next governments in the centre and Punjab. The PML-N government honestly speaking has been able to surmount the diabolical challenges that it inherited.

It can boast about having checked the terrorists in their tracks; claim credit for restoring peace in Karachi and controlling insurgency in Balochistan and vouch for credit of having revived the economy which has been duly acknowledged and endorsed by the international lending and rating agencies. It could also rightfully sell its efforts towards reducing corruption in the higher echelons of the government as corroborated by the Transparency International and having reduced power outages and commissioning new power projects that would come on stream by the end of 2018 ending the power crisis for good. Joining the game-changing CPEC initiative and the proven endeavours made for its implementation could well prove to be a very strong plus point for the PML-N.But, in case the verdict of the court goes against the petitioners, it will have a profound effect on the political landscape. It will be a severe body blow to the PPP and it might even become irrelevant in the context of national politics. PTI will also be a big looser as it would not be left with anything to rely on for winning the franchise of the people. The PML-N will greatly benefit from such a scenario and might even win more seats in Sind and KPK than the previous elections. My conclusion is that in both the case scenarios the PML-N will be the winner.

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