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Monday, July 15, 2024

1970 Election: The Last Credible Vote in Pakistan’s History?

We, the students of sixties and seventies, not only toppled the impregnable dictatorship of Ayub Khan we also played a pivotal role in holding the first and the only free and fair election in 1970.

Since then ten electoral exercises have been rigged between 1977 and 2013.
The dharna at Lalik chowk in DHA Lahore was a spontaneous reaction of the first time voters who felt cheated at the ballot box in 2013.

As we the young comrades delivered the first credible ballot in 1970, it is time for us to regroup and ensure another free and fair election in 2018 as our innings of activism is coming to an end.

Why was the 1970 election free and fair?

Opinions differ. Proper analysis is required to ensure another credible ballot. After the enactment of the first Constitution in 1956, elections on the basis of one-man-one-vote were scheduled for 1958 but instead the country came under the khaki boots.
Ayub Khan not only abrogated the sacred document, he introduced his own brand of controlled democracy with 40,000 members each in both the wings called ‘Basic Democrats’. Thana and ‘Patwarkhana’ had the responsibility to deliver the votes.

Ballot itself remained credible as the voters were manageable. After the fall of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan took over. The ‘Sarkari’ party lost favour with the establishment.

Marshal Stalin of USSR believed that “Those who vote change nothing, those who count change everything”.

There was no time to cobble together another brand of Muslim League, however the generals starting flirting with several political parties, with Qayyum League and Jamaat-e-Islami being prominent. Mujib’s Awami League and Bhutto’s Peoples Party were anti-establishment yet they had clandestine liaisons with the generals.

The plan of rigging was given up as a split mandate was expected. In the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) there was a 120 days limit imposed on the elected assembly to formulate a Constitution, in case of failure the house could be dissolved.

Maulana Bashani saw through the establishment game and boycotted the elections leaving the field open to a direct contest between Jamaat-e-Islami and Awami League in East Pakistan.

Read more: 2018 Elections will be pointless: without “major electoral reforms”

Results were un-expected, Awami League was able to win 160 out of 162 seats in the Eastern Wing while Peoples Party got 81 out of 138 seats in the western part with Qayyum League winning around 10 seats and Jamaat only 4 seats.
The will of the people prevailed for the first time, which was difficult to fathom by the powers to be.

The 1970 Assembly was the ablest ever. The 1973 unanimous Constitution is a gift of this house, the will of the people was well served. State institutions were required to serve not rule. Election has its own dynamics, voters are organised and charged; to deny their will is not easy.

In 1970 the establishment miscalculated the outcome of the ballot and coercive mechanisms of ballot box manipulation were not in place. The administrative set up was relatively clean and managed by able individuals. Even the judiciary had some spine.
In other words the election was free and fair more by circumstances than desire.

Democracy is all about the will of the people for which the sanctity of the ballot is paramount. A disputed election results in a tainted mandate, which lacks legitimacy, and that is the reason that current political leadership has no standing.

The Nasir-ul-Mulk Commission that deliberated on the 2013 elections highlighted several irregularities in the electoral process yet it concluded that the will of the people had prevailed and the mandate of the Prime Minister cannot be taken away.
It is an interesting conclusion, whether the mistakes were deliberate to favour a certain party was not considered.

The deposed Speaker of the Assembly managed to win back his seat with the same old tricks without any remorse or humiliation.

It is back to the students to take charge

Now that all institutions have failed to deliver an honest ballot, it is back to the students to take charge as we did in 1970 or the dharna in DHA Lahore in 2013 of the first time voters.

Unfortunately, the youth have not been exposed to the democratic process and mostly remain apolitical. Without their participation and protest an honest ballot will remain a pipe dream. There can be no democracy without noise and street power, which has been missing here for long.

In 1970 the Military Junta was relying on the 120-day limit for the Constituent Assembly and was not directly backing any political party. There was definite flirtation but no ballot manipulation took place, the result was the ablest elections ever.

It is true that after the only free and fair election in 1970 Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered but the will of the people did prevail. The all-powerful establishment was rendered helpless. Instead of a negotiated settlement, the Junta launched military action in the Eastern Wing against the advice of Governor S. M. Ahsan and Maj. Gen.
Sahibzada Yaqoob Ali Khan who were both removed from their positions.

Read more: Pakistan’s Tragedy: From Rule of Ballot to Rule of Thana!

For a credible electoral exercise, the ballot box has to be jealously guarded by neutral hands. Only the voters should exercise their choices but not the handlers. Marshal Stalin of USSR believed that “Those who vote change nothing, those who count change everything”.

Our Khaki dictators developed a similar approach which was termed ‘Positive Results’.
The roguery that we see in the political arena today is a direct result of this thinking.
Only a few legislators of the 1970 Assembly are around today.
Their names and innings should be highlighted to act as role models for future political leadership. Dr. Mubashir Hassan is one of them. He was elected from Lahore and served as Bhutto’s Finance Minister. Till today he lives in the same house in Gulberg and drives his old car a beat up VW Beatle.

It was an ‘Awami Era’ in which people were served. Pakistan desperately needs another credible ballot similar to the one held in 1970 by a Military Junta whose neutrality was unquestionable.

Approaches like ‘Positive Results’ is an insult to democracy and collective wisdom of the electorate. Whatever the cost, the unhindered will of people must prevail as it did 47 years ago in the very first real election in the country. Another neutral Junta may be needed this time around to end the derailment of democracy?


Dr Farid Malik is a prominent technical and management expert in mining, materials, engineering and high-tech industry; he is a regular columnist with The Nation and Pakistan Today; this piece, is being published by his permission. Global Village Space may not necessarily agree with the facts, opinions and analyses given here.