Massively manipulated polls CH JAVED ELAHI "Appearances can be deceptive" goes an old saying. It sounds rational when one analyses the result of the last general elections, showing the stage-managed defeat of a party that carried out unprecedented development, especially in the South Punjab. Let's have a look at the actual picture based on accepted facts. The PML (Q) worked as a bridge between the moderates and Islamists. But it was marginalised in the recently held elections. And what came in the way of its victory were manipulated flour crisis as well as gas and power shortages. How come within a span of six weeks of the interim government flour crisis erupted with private television channels showing long queues at the Utility Stores. But the media deliberately ignored the fact that a 20-kg bag of flour was being sold at a highly subsidised rate of Rs 280, compared to the actual market price of Rs 500. The margin was so huge that the poor started selling the flour in the open market to make quick profits. Guess what would happen if you start selling petrol for Rs 30 per litre instead of Rs 64 (which is the market price these days). There will be long queues of buyers. Therefore there was no shortage of flour; the problem was the difference in price. Gas load-shedding for domestic consumers was introduced one month before the election for the first time. Previously gas load-shedding was done in winter for industrial consumers. Only in some areas gas was completely shut down for the entire day, and this practice was repeated at will. Regarding power load shedding for long hours, for the first time its period was increased up to 8-10 hours, something that had never happened in the past. Then there were three reports issued by the Governor State Bank within a span of four weeks only, which had a devastating effect on the national economy and exchange rate and also tarnished the image of the previous government of the PML (Q). It turned out to be a marked departure from the past when the Governor SBP issued only one or two economic reports in two years. If one looks at the way the crises developed one can see how the situation was manipulated ahead of elections and the entire economic set-up was shown to have collapsed. This could be seen as an attempt at tarnishing the image of the previous regime and damaging the PML (Q)'s vote bank; a ground had been prepared to justify its defeat.   Despite that PML President Ch Shujaat Hussain accepted the defeat with an open heart, setting a new trend in the national politics. It was distressing to find the foreign media as well as the western governments casting serious aspersions on the credentials of the previous ruling coalition. Three senators from the United States who were visiting Pakistan during the elections openly stated that, "if the PML (Q) wins it will be considered that the elections are rigged." They remained in Pakistan till the end of the elections to achieve the results according to their desires. And they were fully supported by the foreign media. It would be no exaggeration to say that the Establishment made PML (Q) a scapegoat just to hide its own weaknesses. It is also difficult to buy the theory that the masses rewarded the exiled politicians with a 'historic mandate' because they were sure that they would give them good governance. Ridiculous, isn't it? These billionaires who plundered the national wealth mercilessly and fled the country for fear of accountability can't deliver all this. It is no secret that the Bhutto and Sharif families have stacked billions of dollars in bank accounts the world over. The results of the 2008 elections are so surprising that the winners seem more perplexed than the losers. That the government, which served the masses wholeheartedly, had its parliamentary representation from the Punjab reduced from 68 to 28 seats is simply hard to fathom. No one can dispute the fact that Punjab had turned out to be the PML (Q) stronghold because of the huge development done in the province during the past five years. One however finds a strange spectacle in Sindh. There the PPP was expected to get sympathy vote after the assassination of their leader Benazir Bhutto but it could only manage to add 2 seats in the National Assembly to its 2002 strength. Surprisingly, Nawaz Sharif swept Punjab within months of his return from abroad after spending comfortable days in exile at Jeddah's Suroor Palace and his luxurious Park Lane apartment in London's expensive neighbourhood. It seems mind-boggling; the 2008 polls will remain an unresolved mystery. The writer is former Punjab Chief Minister's brother