Fair and free elections is a pipedream
Going through the political history of Pakistan, one is constrained to learn that till 1956, Pakistan was without a constitution. Popularity graph of the Muslim League kept sliding after the birth of Pakistan because of the fact that almost the entire lot of leading lights of this party had no roots in regions falling within Pakistan. Instead of learning a lesson from its defeat in 1954 provincial elections in East Pakistan and restructuring itself, Muslim league got further factionalized due to infighting. Absentee landlordism was not abolished in West Pakistan.
The first generation politicians are responsible for laying down weak foundations of democracy. Till 1970, no general elections were held for they knew they would be bundled out by the electorates. Absence of elections stopped the process of pruning of the unscrupulous politicians and replacement by better ones. Once process of elections commenced, power and money was used to change election results. As a result, the same lot of base politicians belonging to select Baradaries plagued democracy and Pakistani politics.
Gen Ayub Khan shared President Iskandar Mirza’s views that the system based on western democracy was ill-suited to the people’s psyche. He debarred 6000 politicians from taking part in politics under EBDO and introduced Basic Democracies as an alternative political system. Presidential election in 1965 in which Mohtrama Fatima Jinnah stood against Ayub Khan and lost saw the first instance of rigging. Political agitation together with economic and political impact of 1965 war put an end to Ayub’s golden era.
Gen Yahya Khan is credited for holding first ever general elections in December 1970, acknowledged as the fairest elections ever taken place this side of Suez. However, in actuality Awami League had carried out massive rigging prior to and during polling.
When power was not handed over to Sheikh Mujib because of Bhutto’s obduracy and Mujib creating a state within state, Yahya in his earnestness to save the situation launched a military operation on 25 March 1971. It however proved to be the beginning of breakup of Pakistan and triggered a civil war which ultimately led to division of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh. Elections rather than integrating the nation disintegrated the country.
ZA Bhutto piloted consensus 1973 Constitution but carried out several amendments to control judiciary and established political cell in ISI and FSF to control politicians. 1977 general elections were rigged by Bhutto’s administration since Bhutto was keen to win two-thirds majority. Complete deadlock created by the irreconcilable politicians resulted in military takeover by Gen Ziaul Haq in July 1977. He introduced clause of ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ for competing legislators.
For November 1988 elections, IJI was formed to prevent Benazir Bhutto from winning. Money was used to win over 30 independents. In the 1990 elections, the Establishment was involved in bribing political party leaders to ensure success of IJI under Nawaz Sharif. Article 58-2B was extensively used by presidents to sack governments during 1990s. In the 2002 elections, pre-poll rigging was undertaken to force politicians to join King’s Party. Agencies were used to coerce those unwilling to tow the given dictates. Patriots were the creation of NAB.
In the 2008 elections, although Gen Kayani forbade Army from interfering in elections, yet the caretaker government, PML-Q, MQM and USA used their influence to manipulate the outcome of results in their favor. Imran Khan referred the case of bogus voting to the Supreme Court, asserting that from among the 40-45% votes polled in 2008 elections, over 37 million voters were bogus.
About 300 candidates got fraudulently elected in national and provincial assemblies who had forged their Bachelor degrees. Large numbers of parliamentarians with dual nationalities got elected in violation of Constitution.
In contravention to Supreme Court orders, MQM, PPP and ANP have not abolished their militant wings. Delimitation of five districts of Karachi is being vehemently resisted by MQM for it sees it as an attempt to diminish its prospects of gaining total control over Karachi. It has now referred the case to the UN.
PPP accommodated illegal demands of coalition partners under the policy of reconciliation, which gave rise to nepotism and cronyism and sidelined merit. Consequently, corruption, inflation, price hike, joblessness, poverty, and crimes scaled new heights. PPP government despite its poor performance is confident that it will once again win the elections by buying the voters. In its dying days, the PM and ministers carried out pre-poll rigging openly. Rs 50 billion were spent to rig outcome of forthcoming elections.
Nawaz extended support to Zardari because of inherent fear that Army may not step in. This fear psychosis from democracy-friendly Gen Kayani is incomprehensible. Nawaz overlooked misdeeds of PPP and earned the title of ‘friendly opposition because of his innate desire to gain two-thirds mjority and to have a full tenure of five years. Shahbaz Sharif’s relatively better performance in contrast to dismal performance of other three provinces has helped in catapulting the popularity graph of PML-N.
Tehrik-e-Insaf has emerged as the third force. Imran Khan’s slogan of change has appealed to the senses of urban youth and has posed a serious challenge to the two mainstream political parties believing in status quo. Tahirul Qadri is not wrong in saying that even hundred elections under the corrupt electoral system would not bring any change.
The banned TTP denounces elections, rejects democratic system in FATA and is resorting to propaganda and terrorism, which is not a good sign. However participation of Balochistan nationalist parties including BNP of Akhtar Mengal is a healthy sign.
Flawed electoral system has prevented emergence of true leaders. Chaudhris, Maliks, Waderas, Police, Patwaris, Pirs, Faqirs have yoked 85% of 34 million rural based voters. In order to save the corrupt political system favoring a tiny elite group, feudal lords prefer sham democracy over true democracy.
Election Commission, judiciary, bureaucracy, military establishment, agencies and interim governments in unison have been recycling same lot of corrupt politicians in violation of the constitution.
85 year old new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is a man of high integrity, but age factor is a serious handicap. He has been unable stop pre-poll rigging and other glaring illegalities. 18th Amendment has curtailed CEC powers and decision making authority rests with politically appointed four members of Election Commission (EC). None meet the criteria of Article 147 of Constitution. Caretakers and EC are morally bound to ensure strict scrutiny of contestants under Articles 62 and 63 so that all bad hats are disqualified and only righteous and truthful candidates with good reputation enter the legislature. But with so many flaws in electoral system, free and fair elections is a pipedream.
Insecure security environment, rising religious extremism and deep political polarization give rise to the possibility of bloody elections. Possibility of assassination of high profile personality to put off elections cannot be ruled out. No party will win two-thirds majority and even if one party gain simple majority, it will not be able to form a government since losers will reject election results. Egged on by invisible hands, it may lead to a complete impasse. It is speculated that it may be under such circumstances that modified Bangladesh model is applied for two-three years to cleanse the Aegean Stables through strict accountability, improve economy, remove electoral flaws and then hold elections.
Democratic system is widely popular in the world and every civilized society tends to boast its propensity and preferences for democracy and its associated values. Hence, whatever the fault lines, the system should purge itself from within over a period of time. Democracy is as essentially permissible and good for tribes of FATA as for any others in Pakistan. Presently, what is urgently required is effective screening of contestants, avoidance of rigging on polling day and ensuring security. The onus of electing the right candidates is on the voters.
The writer is a retired Brig, a defence analyst and a columnist. Emil: firstname.lastname@example.org