Malik M. Ashraf
In a democratic dispensation elections are of foundational importance in regards to winning public franchise and political stability in the country. But unfortunately all elections in Pakistan except 1970 general elections have remained controversial. However in spite of the fairness of the elections the failure of General Yahya to hand over power to the winning party eventually led to Indian intervention and dismemberment of Pakistan. So it can be safely inferred that all elections have added to political instability in the country. The losing political parties have invariably challenged the results and accused the relevant authorities of having rigged them in favour of the winning party.
The nation is going to the polls on 8th February to elect a new government and the political landscape is already resonating with allegations and apprehensions about possible rigging in favour of PML (N) which is not a good omen in regards to the acceptability of the results.
PPP and PML(N) which were allies in the outgoing PDM government have already started throwing brick-bats at each other with the former alleging that the PML(N) Nawaz Sharif has returned to the country as result of a deal and that it would not accept the imposed Prime Minister. The statements by the PML N) leaders with unswerving confidence that Nawaz Sharif would be the next Prime Minister are also reinforcing the apprehensions regarding the alleged deal between PML(N) Supremo Nawaz Sharif and the praetorian powers.
It is not a sensible posturing by them regarding the outcome of February elections. Nobody can say with certainty whether a deal has been struck as alleged or not but the question arises, how can one make such claims with aplomb much before the elections in view of the fact that different surveys conducted do not endorse the stance taken by them and the political horizon of the country is so muddled?
Punjab which was considered a bastion of power for PML(N) is no more the same as new realities have come up in the backdrop of 9th May incidents. The emergence of IPP comprising several electable who were PTI stalwarts is surely going to dent PML (N) vote bank unless they make an alliance with it. The alliances forged by PML(N) with JIU, MQM and GDA in Sind, JUI in KPK and Joining of 30 prominent political personalities from Balochistan belonging to Balochistan Awami party, National Party Mengal, National Party, PTI and PPP are also strong portents suggesting that PML(N) itself was not sure of carrying Punjab this time. Some people also suggest that these developments also indicate behind the scene efforts in putting together these alliances.
The PTI which is also another big political entity has also predicted rigging in the elections. Its Secretary General Umar Ayub in a statement has alleged that ECP was planning to appoint Grade-17 and 18 officers from the executive as District Returning and Assistant Returning Officers which he thought was a clear and blatant attempt to rig the upcoming general elections. He has further alleged “We are heading into very dark days ahead as plans of pre-poll and rigging and outright rigging the February elections have become apparent”. However, it is hard to give credence to such wild claims without credible evidence. The ECP has already refuted these allegations.
Who is not aware of the false narrative of PTI about rigging in the 2013 elections particularly Imran’s allegations against the caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi for helping the PML(N) to win 35 seats which he sarcastically called punctures. However when the judicial commission formed to probe the rigging allegations concluded after its deliberations that it had not found any evidence of rigging Imran Khan in an interview with a TV channel admitted that the narrative of 35 punctures was only a political talk and some body had told him about it. Not only that his entire politics has been premised on false narratives. The statement by Umar Ayub regarding rigging in the ensuing elections also seems a similar ploy to dent their credibility.
It is now a well known and admitted fact that PTI itself was a product of rigging in the 2018 elections and even after coming into power it employed traditional tactics to rig elections in its favour. By-election in NA-75 provides a ranting testimony to the undesirable antics of PTI.
In the emerging political scenario the authorities responsible for conducting the elections will have to make honest and strenuous efforts to hold free and fair elections to ensure credibility of the results. Before actually holding elections it is imperative to remove apprehensions and misgivings being expressed by different political stakeholders. While all those involved in the 9th May are prosecuted according to the law of the land, the party should not be kept out of the polls as an entity. All the parties should be taken into confidence regarding measures and rules to conduct the elections so that nobody could complain about not being given the level playing field. Elections undoubtedly are imperative to strengthen democracy and installing representative governments to run the state affairs.
Having said that I am of the considered view that no matter how many elections are held under the prevailing system, the country is not going to move ahead. Single constituency system has inbuilt avenues of corruption besides ensuring monopoly of the feudal and elitist classes on the political power. The number game for clinching power leads to horse-trading and blackmail of the party leaders. It even provides opportunity to non-democratic forces to play their role in the making and breaking of governments. We need to say adieu to the archaic system of governance and the way we elect our representatives.
In my view the cure lies in switching over to proportional representation system in which people vote for the parties and not individual candidates eliminating the possibility of pre-poll or post-poll rigging. The parties get representation in the assemblies according to the percentage of votes obtained. The party leadership is spared of the blackmail of the so-called electables and enables it to nominate really competent people to represent the party in the assemblies. It also ensures representation of the small regional parties at the national level curbing fissiparous tendencies.
The political parties need to learn from history and use their collective wisdom in the larger interest of the nation to reform the system and put the country on the path envisioned by the founding father.
The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.