Unholy practice of rigging elections
Asif Haroon Raja
Going through the political history of Pakistan, one is constrained to learn that till 1956 Pakistan was without a constitution and it banked upon Government of India Act as an interim instrument to govern the country. It cannot be denied that all elections held in Pakistan were rigged. The first ten-year political era suffered from so much of instability because of the miserable performance of the Muslim League, Awami League and NAP politicians that seven prime ministers changed hands and gave rise to bureaucratic-military oligarchy. The first generation politicians are responsible for laying down weak foundations of democracy. They didn’t hold elections 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. As a result, the same lot of base politicians plagued democracy and Pakistani politics.
Owing to continually deteriorating conditions, President Iskandar Mirza sacked Feroz Khan Noon’s government on 7 October 1958, abrogated 1956 constitution, dissolved the parliament and provincial assemblies and declared martial law. Political parties were suspended. He appointed Gen Ayub Khan as prime minister on 27 October. Soldier turned bureaucrat, Mirza was firmly of the view that unless desired level of awareness and mass literacy was achieved whereby the common man could discern the value of his vote, his rights and true meaning of democracy, parliamentary form of government would not bring any tangible results. Gen Ayub Khan and his military colleagues shared his views that the system based on western democracy was ill-suited to the people’s psyche.
After sacking Iskandar Mirza on 28 October 1958 and forcing him to fly out to London, Gen Ayub debarred 6000 politicians from taking part in politics or holding any office of responsibility under EBDO and introduced Basic Democracies as an alternative political system. He also promulgated new constitution in 1962, lifted martial law and took oath as president under the new constitution. Ban on political parties was lifted by him the same year. Politicians were unfettered from EBDO on the insistence of his blue eyed Foreign Minister ZA Bhutto who reverently called Ayub ‘Daddy’. Ganging up of the morally degenerated politicians, coupled with high ambitions of ZA Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to gain power together with mistakes made by Ayub to sack the two Governors, Nawab of Kalabagh and Lt Gen Azam Khan, and the economic impact of 1965 war which cut Ayub Khan to size, led to his fall, thus putting an end to Ayub’s golden era.
Gen Yahya Khan on taking over declared martial law but committed mistakes of abrogating 1962 constitution and dissolving one-unit. The December 1970 general elections were the first ever held since birth of Pakistan. It was widely opined that elections were the most transparent and fairest elections ever taken place. However, the fact is that Awami League had carried out massive rigging prior to and during polling through high handed tactics. Throughout the yearlong election campaign, Awami League activists together with RAW agents terrorized the people of East Pakistan and prevented all other political parties belonging to West Pakistan to hold public meetings. Both the Governor and Corps Commander overlooked hooliganism of Awami League thugs because of overall policy of appeasement of Bengalis. As a consequence Awami League swept the polls.
When power was not handed over to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman because of Bhutto’s obduracy, Mujib’s small heartedness and Yahya Khan’s bumbling, 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 disintegration of Pakistan into two and creation of Bangladesh. Had he not taken the fatal decisions of abrogating 1962 constitution, undoing one-unit, and parity formula settled by consensus while formulating 1956 constitution, Pakistan would have stayed intact. Elections rather than integrating the nation disintegrated the country.
1977 general elections were again rigged by ZA Bhutto’s administration since Bhutto was keen to win two-thirds majority. It led to formation of seven-party alliance called Pakistan National Alliance. Complete deadlock created by the irreconcilable politicians led by late Nawabzada Nasrullah, Asghar Khan and Mufti Mahmood resulted in military takeover by Gen Ziaul Haq in July 1977. Less PPP, all other politicians got adjusted in Zia created Majlis Shura and later took part in party-less elections to become members of parliament under Zia-picked Muhammad Khan Junejo in March 1985. Martial Law was lifted in December 1985 but after getting 8th amendment passed which transferred greater powers to president.
For the November 1988 elections, IJI was formed by the then DG ISI Lt Gen Hamid Gul to prevent Benazir Bhutto from winning. Money was used to win over 30 independents. When she won with thin majority, she was asked to accept Ghulam Ishaq Khan as President and retired Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub as Foreign Minister since she was viewed as a security risk by the military establishment under Gen Mirza Aslam Beg. In the 1990 elections, President Ishaq, Gen Beg and the then DG ISI Lt Gen Asad Durrani were involved in bribing political party leaders to ensure success of IJI under Nawaz Sharif.
In the 2002 elections organized by Gen Pervez Musharraf regime, pre-poll rigging was undertaken to browbeat politicians and make them join hands with King’s Party. NAB, ISI, Rangers and ANF were used to coerce those unwilling to tow the given dictates. Patriots belonging to PPP were created by NAB. Even after so much of manipulations and two mainstream leaders in exile, Zafarullah Jamali could manage to win vote of confidence by one vote only. Former head of ISI’s political cell Maj Gen Ehtesham Zameer Jaffery confessed that the 2002 elections were rigged in favor of King’s Party.
In the 2008 elections, although the new Army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani recalled all Army officers serving in government departments and prohibited Army institutions 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. MMA was trounced and liberal parties emerged victorious. The only aspect which went against the script was the entry of PML-N in Punjab and in the centre. The dream team scripted by Washington was formed once PML-N left the federal cabinet.
Imran Khan referred the case of bogus voting to the Supreme Court (SC), when to his and the nation’s horror it was learnt that from among the 40-45% votes polled in 2008 elections, over 37 million voters were bogus. He maintained that with the termination of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and unearthing of bogus votes, the sitting government had become illegal and had no right to stay in power. When a restraining order to the Election Commission was issued by the SC asking it to rectify the voters list before holding by-polls, the government together with PML-N hastened to introduce 20th Amendment in the Constitution to participate in by-elections.
About 300 candidates got fraudulently elected in national and provincial assemblies who had forged their Bachelor degrees. Large numbers of parliamentarians with dual nationalities have been plundering national wealth, buying properties abroad and maintaining foreign currency accounts in foreign banks. They are all set to flee to safe havens once the going get rough for them. Rupees 8 billion get eaten up in corruption every day. PIA, Railway, Steel Mill, OGDC all are running in huge losses.
While the Army is holding on to FATA and Swat with dogged determination, Karachi and Balochistan are on fire and out of control of provincial governments where target killings and kidnapping for ransom have become a norm. In the last 30 months 8000 people have been killed in Karachi by target killers but not a single killer has been convicted and hanged since the ruling coalition of three parties patronizes armed militant wings and are deeply engaged in turf war to retain/gain hold over their constituencies in port city. In contravention to SC 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.
In order to accommodate legal and mostly illegal demands of its coalition partners, the PPP has been pursuing policy of reconciliation, which means compromising on wrongdoings. Nepotism and cronyism has flourished under the garb of national reconciliation. As a consequence, merit has been sidelined and corruption, inflation, price hike, joblessness, poverty, and crimes have scaled new heights. The PPP government oblivious of miseries of the people is solely interested in completing its five-year term. It is confident that it will once again win the elections by buying the voters.
Although the new chief election commissioner is a man of high integrity and acceptable to all parties, it is to be seen whether he succeeds in closing the past unholy practice of rigging and holding free and fair elections. The onus of electing the right candidates is on the voters; otherwise one will have to admit that Iskandar Mirza’s assessment was right.
The writer is a retired Brig, a defence analyst and a freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com