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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Unmasking the Shadows: The Imperative for Free and Fair Elections in Pakistan

For far too long, Pakistan has grappled with a legacy of rigged elections, hindering the nation's progress towards true democracy. As each electoral cycle unfolds, concerns of manipulation and unfair practices cast a shadow over the people's voice and their right to choose their leaders.

According to Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, he believes that every election since 1970 has been rigged. He provides a list of disputed elections, including 1977, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2008, 2013, and 2018. He personally holds the opinion that the 2013 elections were manipulated to make the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party lose. In that election, several constituencies were challenged, and three members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were disqualified for rigging, while the fourth survived on a technicality.

Abbassi suggests that if the 1970 election had been rigged like the ones that followed, it could have triggered a civil war in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), similar to what happened in 1977 when the opposition rejected the election results. He highlights the dissatisfaction of the masses with the perceived heavy-handedness of the establishment. He also criticizes former President Ayub Khan, referring to his rule as a decade of progress for the nation, but in reality, a period of decay and concentration of wealth among a few families. Abbassi states that voters overwhelmingly voted for change, leading to the complete wipeout of the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League (Convention) in the 1970 election.

Read more: Democracy in Crisis: Unmasking Pakistan’s Illusion of Fair Elections

Understanding the matter better

Abbassi emphasizes the high stakes for the upcoming 2023 elections and highlights the lessons from history. He mentions various methods of election rigging that have been perfected over time, including pre-poll, during-poll, and post-poll mechanisms. He cites examples such as the 2013 elections being labeled as the “election of the Returning Officers” by Asif Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif delivering a victory speech before the completion of vote counting. Abbassi accuses the establishment of pre-poll rigging in the 2018 elections, where candidates were allegedly forced to change parties or loyalties.

Abbassi expresses his hope for a credible ballot in the 2023 elections, emphasizing that the will of the people must prevail. He mentions the establishment fielding multiple parties to ensure victory, including the creation of a new party called Isthekam-e-Pakistan (IPP). He calls for the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to step down to pave the way for a credible contest. Abbassi warns against stretching pre-poll rigging to election day manipulation and post-poll rigging, as the consequences could be dire and lead to a situation spinning out of control, especially in KPK, Balochistan, and parts of Punjab. He emphasizes the historical lesson that when the ballot fails, the bullet takes over.

Abbassi alleges that in the 1970 elections, the establishment supported Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in East Pakistan and Qayyum League in West Pakistan. He mentions the boycott of elections by Maulana Bashani, resulting in a one-on-one contest with the Awami League. JI performed poorly, with some leaders facing treason trials and punishments. The Qayyum League emerged as the second-largest party in West Pakistan’s National Assembly after Bhutto’s People’s Party. Abbassi suggests that the polls were orderly and voters were allowed to freely exercise their right to vote, with no pre-poll rigging due to the manual system in place. He emphasizes the division between East and West Pakistan during that time.

Read more: Google shares doodle reminding General Elections in Pakistan

Abbassi concludes by stating that repeated experiments with election rigging have failed and that the ballot must be trusted for the sake of political stability, which is essential for economic viability. He mentions the progress of countries like Bangladesh and India, which have achieved civilian supremacy through elected and stable governments. He highlights India’s decision to abolish colonial-era cantonments, confining troops to bases and barracks as done in the United States. Abbassi calls for an end to rigged elections, allowing the people to decide their fate for real freedom (Haqiqi Azadi) after the mess created by the establishment.

The economic engine of growth must be started and run at full throttle. Bangladesh has surged ahead with elected and stable governments, while Pakistan has been left behind. India is also experiencing growth and prosperity. Civilian supremacy prevails in both countries. In India, they have made the decision to abolish the colonial-era cantonments, confining troops to bases and barracks, similar to the practice in the United States. Corruption-ridden Cantonment Boards have been dismantled and brought under municipal control, which is the appropriate approach.

After 75 years of its existence, Pakistan has faced four constitutions, four Martial Laws, and ten manipulated elections. Now, the nation stands at a crossroads once again. It is crucial to put an end to rigged elections and allow the people to determine their own destiny. The quest for true freedom, Haqiqi Azadi, cannot be stopped after all the mess created by the establishment.


The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.