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Monday, July 15, 2024

From vote to note: Pakistan’s history of rigged elections

According to Dr. Farid A. Malik, Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation, Pakistan once used to have fair elections. However, over the years, politicians began to lure their voters in with promises of ‘Biryani’ or ‘Qeemaywalay Nan.' As a result, the value of the vote deteriorated and Pakistan became a victim of rigged elections.

No one wants to talk about the 1970 elections as it shattered many myths and also resulted in the break-up of the Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan, but it was a major milestone in our struggle for democracy. In West Pakistan the election was free and fair, ideology prevailed over influence.

Pakistan Muslim League (Con), the chief tormentor of the democratic order, was annihilated. Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism prevailed with its promise of ‘Roti, Kapra, Makan‘ (Food, Clothing, Shelter). The power of the vote was established.

The system worked well till 1975, and during this period, the establishment was kept out of the political arena. With the dismissal of NAP/JUI (National Awami Party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam) governments in Balochistan and KP followed by military action, the dreaded establishment came back into the fold.

Bhutto was convinced to hold elections in early 1977 ahead of schedule to surprise the opposition. A trap had been laid to derail democracy again. The day the assemblies were dissolved, a nine-party opposition alliance was announced called Pakistan National Alliance (PNA).

Read more: Is Pakistan moving forward or backwards?

The beginning of the dark ages

On the grounds of alleged rigging, an anti-government movement was launched that resulted in the dreaded Martial Law on 5 July 1977. The ‘Zia Dark Ages’ plunged the nation into the darkness that continues to block light till today.

The 1985 partyless elections ended the era of the vote, replacing it with the note (money). Most progressive activists were hounded, cornered, and punished. Comrades of change were looked down upon. Many left the country while others joined NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) for survival. It is an irony that individuals who entered the political arena to earn notes are now demanding the Vote ki Izzat (Sanctity of Votes). Real success comes through honest hard work.

In the last four decades shortcuts have been taken to build empires. Such misdeeds are recorded and kept by the agencies in safe files to be used at the appropriate time. Residents of glass houses cannot afford to pelt stones but can buy votes to get elected.

Read more: Elections 1977 and 2018: A comparison – Farid A Malik

The PPP under Benazir tried to resist the temptation of notes but with Asif Zardari at the helm, the party decided to follow the path of the Sharifs. Like PML(N), the leadership of the PPP also faces corruption charges. Imran Khan’s PTI remains relatively clean. The Prime Minister has taken a firm stand against corruption and is unwilling to negotiate despite the internal and external pressures that threaten his coalition government.

What can be done for honest elections?

Planned efforts are required to end this era of notes that has made the power of votes vanish. Only a well-thought ideology can put an end to this era of loot and plunder. So far, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has not been able to recover the looted money.

Without convictions, the note will prevail again in the next elections scheduled for 2023. In the past, the slogan of Inthikab say Pehlay Ehtasib (Accountability before Elections) has been used to postpone elections. In order to escape conviction most accused get bails and then prolong the legal process through expensive lawyers.

Read more: Army can not take over the elections – PPP

All accused of corruption should not be allowed to participate in the next elections unless exonerated by the courts, this will speed up the process of accountability. Indeed ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’ these delays have been deadly for the democratic order and have to be dealt with. I inherited about twenty court cases from my litigant father. In every file, there was a request for an early hearing.

No politician accused of corruption has ever requested an early hearing which clearly shows avoidance of the final verdict. In the famous Nawaz Sharif case, an application was moved for transfer of the case from the court of Justice Muhammad Bashir to Arshad Malik, once all homework had been done to neutralize him which included meetings with the Accountability Court Judge in Mecca and Jatti Umra. The power of note was blatantly exercised to gain favors.

We, the students of the 1960s and 1970s struggled to get our right to vote from the first usurper. After his fall in March 1969, the first election in 1970 on the basis of adult franchise revived the democratic process in the country. The power of vote prevailed for the first and unfortunately the last time, as since then every election has been disputed.

Read more: Bilawal Bhutto cries foul on GB elections

The never-ending corruption of PML-N

The PML(N) has been the master of rigged electoral contests, getting an absolute majority several times. Even in the outgoing assembly in AJK, the party managed to achieve this target. Now when the elections are being held under their control, they are complaining of planned rigging.

In the checkered political history of Pakistan, only the PML(N) has been able to win such absolute control of the parliament mainly because of the power of ‘Note’, not ‘Vote’. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the most popular leader of his times, was accused of rigging the elections in 1977 to get a two-third majority in order to amend the Constitution but lost power in the process. Till then, ‘Note’ had been out of the political arena.

Read more: “Nawaz must tell who rigged the elections”, PTI

In the words of Wali Khan, “With Qayyum Khan, we had ideological differences but never blamed each other for corruption.” In other words, it was all about ‘Votes’, not ‘Notes’. Unless these political bounty hunters’ who entered the corridors of power through the ill-fated 1985 partyless elections are driven out, the power of ‘Vote’ will remain diluted and the entire democratic order will remain hostage to the lure of ‘Biryani’ or ‘Qeemaywalay Nan’. Both look delicious but with no meat, raising the often asked question; ”Where’s the Beef?”

Dr. Farid A. Malik is an Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation. The article has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.