electoral reforms, elections
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Farid Malik|

If the next elections are held without major electoral reforms, it will be as futile an exercise as the ten elections held after the 1970 free and fair election.

The 1973 constitution has failed to deliver an honest ballot. Institutional domains are defined in the constitution for the will of the people to prevail. Elections have to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) is responsible for conducting the electoral exercise in an impartial manner. As it is a nationwide exercise it has to draw staff from Provincial Governments for meeting the logistic requirements of the Election Day. The local bureaucracy is usually influenced by the politicians, which results in vote tampering.

Electoral procedure

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is appointed jointly by the leader of the house and opposition. He oversees the entire electoral process. After signing the Charter of Democracy the two main political parties (PML-N, PPP) have softened their rivalry to maintain the status-quo as it suits them, which means Punjab for PML-N and Sindh for PPP while sharing power at the federal level.

If the next elections are held without major electoral reforms, it will be as futile an exercise as the ten elections held after the 1970 free and fair election.

The Khakis are called in for security purposes only as they have no constitutional role in the conduct of elections. Judiciary steps in to oversee the performance of the Election Tribunals. Constitutionally the bureaucracy is required to be neutral, which they are not. The legislature represents the will of the people and should act as the custodian of the constitution to ensure its implementation.

History of elections in Pakistan

The first election under the unanimous 1973 constitution took place in 1977. ZAB was a clear favourite. Overnight an opposition alliance emerged (Pakistan Nation Alliance), the establishment had cornered the Quaid-e-Awam both from inside and out. Electables managed to get PPP tickets and were involved in their usual tricks, which provided an opportunity to the opposition to launch a movement. Keeping ZAB’s popularity in mind the party comrades advised immediate re-election while the electables opposed it.

Read more: Is PML-N a threat to democracy?

There was a constitutional impasse. The office of the Prime Minister (PM) could not be kept vacant. In cases of his resignation, the senior most minister was mandated to take over which was not acceptable to the opposition.

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

The legendary Shaukat Hayat Khan tried for an in-house change to save the system but failed. Finally, Zia-ul-Haq took over and destroyed all democratic gains, he even disfigured the constitution. In order to avoid the 1977 type impasse, the 8th amendment was introduced under which the PM could be dismissed by the President and elections held within ninety days under a neutral care taker set up.

Between 1988 and 1997 five governments were dismissed making a mockery of democracy. This evil amendment was done away with first by Nawaz Sharif in 1997 and then again by Zardari in his last stint in power. His was the first government to complete its term (2008 – 2013) followed by a smooth transition of power.

Both Zia and Musharraf were disasters for the nation. Their political tailcoats continue to dominate and haunt the political arena of this deprived nation.

Unfortunately, the will of the people has prevailed only once in 1970. The 1973 constitution is a gift of this truly elected assembly of able legislators who served the nation. Without a credible ballot there can be no democracy. The leadership that emerges after farce elections are in front of us. Zia-ul-Haq used the term ‘positive results’ which meant rule of ‘rogues’ and ‘thugs’ elected through manipulated electoral processes. Musharraf continued with the same approach.

The legendary Shaukat Hayat Khan tried for an in-house change to save the system but failed.

After the enactment of the 1973 constitution, there have been two Khaki takeovers (1977, 1999). Both these supra constitutional shocks were deadly for the nation. Zia promised to hold elections within ninety days which never took place till he was blown up mid-year, probably due to his misdeeds eleven years and two months later. Musharraf wanted to cleanse the system with his seven-point agenda. In the end, he brought back all the ‘rogues’ through his ill-advised National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Both Zia and Musharraf were disasters for the nation. Their political tailcoats continue to dominate and haunt the political arena of this deprived nation.

Way Forward

For Pakistan to move forward the will of the people has to prevail in which no institution of the state seems interested. Khakis, Qazis, Baboos and Legislators cross constitutional limits when it suits their institutional interests but not for the nation. Pakistan desperately needs another free and fair election to reset its course as a nation.

The constitution has defined the electoral process, which has been negated ten times with no corrective measures. The Nasir-ul-Malk lead Judicial Commission pointed out serious irregularities in the conduct of 2013 electoral exercise yet not one of them has been corrected. The Speaker of the house managed to get re-elected through the same twisted process. Minister of Railways got relief from the Supreme Courts while Minister of Defence relied on NADRA. Only the Lodhran seat was conceded by the ruling party.

After signing the Charter of Democracy the two main political parties (PML-N, PPP) have softened their rivalry to maintain the status-quo as it suits them, which means Punjab for PML-N and Sindh for PPP while sharing power at the federal level.

The constitutional impasse in conducting a free and fair election has to be removed. There should be a suo-moto notice for the implementation of the Nasir-ul-Mulk Commission report. This approach of you rub my back and I will rub yours will get us nowhere. It is time to wake up.

I believe in the democratic system which should not be derailed. The constitution must be followed in letter and spirit. In the original version, the PM was allowed only two terms in office which has to be enforced in spirit of the sacred document. Legislators who get elected through manipulated ballots will never favor a credible electoral exercise.

In the past, the Khakis, Qazis and the Baboos have teamed up to propel third rate political leadership. It is time for them to devise a constitutional mechanism to ensure rule of the ballot. Pakistan was created through the ballot, and only it can sustain it. Those who threaten the power of the people must learn to respect and live with it.

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.

Dr. Farid Malik is a prominent technical and management expert in mining, materials, engineering and high-tech industry; he is a regular columnist for The Nation and Pakistan Today. He is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.

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