Elections are over in Pakistan. Notwithstanding the bloodshed, pre-poll rigging, massive engineering, forced party desertions, discovery of abandoned ballot boxes, torn ballot papers and the internationally criticised role of the powers that be in favour of one party, judicial wrangling, decisions that are full of holes—all put together shroud the results of 2018 elections as one of the dirtiest in our history.
Despite the plethora of charges by almost everybody that people’s mandate has been stolen, it is good to know that the Election Commission of Pakistan has ordered recounting of votes in 29 National and Provincial Assembly seats to counter some of the criticism. Affected parties describe this gesture as an attempt to cover up countrywide massive rigging. All the major parties would not have it. They want a high-level commission of inquiry into massive electoral fraud with the connivance of the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Establishment. PMLN’s Governor of Sindh Muhammad Zubair has expressed profound reservations over the fraudulent conduct of polls in favour of one political party and tendered his resignation.
In my previous columns I have always underscored the imperatives of free, fair and transparent elections in order to nurture and nourish a robust democracy fostering healthy institutions providing deeper roots to federal edifice under constant threat of Damocles’ sword of extra-constitutional intervention hanging over its head. I have reiterated that after the ignominious surrender by our Generals in Dhaka before Indian Army in 1971, there was no power on earth that could have salvaged the residual Pakistan except the Constitution of 1973 that actually gave birth to new Pakistan on a fresh social contract not deriving its strength from religion or its humiliated armed forces but on the basis of consensus among the four provinces and its leaders.
One may remind here that in three smaller provinces there were irredentist movements for independence in full swing and the erstwhile Soviet Union had declared unequivocally that if any one of the smaller provinces raised the demand for right of self-determination, Soviet Union would support them like it helped East Pakistan attain independence. It was the wisdom of the political leadership of residual Pakistan comprising (then President/CMLA) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Khan Wali Khan, Sardar Ghous Bux Bizenjo, Aslam Khattak, Mufti Mahmood, Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari, Achakzai, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Khan of Kalat, Ajmal Khattak, Sardar Raisanis, Zehri’s, Sheikh Ayaz, Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri and host of other nationalist leaders who could have sought independence but were convinced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in common destiny best for the greatest good of the largest number.
Most outstanding feature of the 1973 Constitution was settlement of the divisive issue of provincial autonomy—the issue that led to the partition of India and subsequently break up of Pakistan. It was resolved that after ten years concurrent list would also be given to provinces. It did not happen since General Zia staged a coup and amended the Constitution to make Central government and President all powerful. With his divine fall from the skies and subsequent ouster of yet another military dictator in 2008, the elected government took yet another land mark decision by 18th amendment transferring concurrent list to the provinces and agreeing to National Financial Commission’s equitable distribution of national resources. It is the same 18th amendment that was described as damaging as 6 points of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman by the powers that be since it weakened their hold on power.
This digression is to warn powers that be not to play with the Constitution or the 18th Amendment as changes to it could be of serious consequences to the integrity of the federation. The shabby manner elections 2018 were conducted has caused deep hurt to the people whose votes have been stolen. While almost all the political parties have rejected the results, Awami National Party’s leader Asfandyar Wali Khan has demanded fresh elections without army’s deployment. Asfandyar alleged that the elections were rigged and blamed state institutions, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), security forces and the judiciary for the ‘massive rigging’.
“We can easily win elections if they’re held under human supervision and not under the ‘aliens’,” Asfandyar said. “Those on duty pushed out our polling agents and then counted the votes their own way,” he claimed. In a veiled warning, the ANP chief said the country might see instability as those ‘selected’ to run the country were not the ‘true representatives’ of the people. Terming the polls a conspiracy against Pakhtun representation, he claimed the Pakhtun leaders were made to lose their seats in parliament through a plan. “ANP doesn’t believe in violence, but don’t push us against the wall,” he warned.
Although atmosphere is ripe for a PNA like movement or Dharna politics in protest against massive rigging, a grand opposition alliance has been set up to meet the consequences of the ugly post election situation. Some of the components of the GOA were of the view that countrywide street agitations should be launched not to let comfortable oath taking of the PTI Prime Minister. However, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari very successfully steered the hostility to positively convince others that the battle for democracy can best be waged on the floor of the parliament by a united strong opposition. It was also decided not to boycott parliamentary proceedings.
Maulana Fazlul Rehman rightly believes that there has never been a consensus on election rigging like 2018 polls. Indeed, his call be heeded to that the nation, establishment, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the powers that be to realise the gravity of the situation. Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman PPP, stressed that parliament was the best platform to raise the issues pertaining to election irregularities and ‘political engineering’. He vowed to play the role of a strong opposition within and outside of the parliament. Senior PML-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq while demanding resignation from the ECP authorities said all parties have rejected the electoral process. The election commission appears helpless in face of the dictate of the Establishment.
Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan’s victory has been welcomed widely. It was an eventuality known beforehand. He seems positive in his commitments. While US has questioned the fairness of elections, it has offered its hand of friendship to IK. So have Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran among others. He has goodwill and if he could deliver in matters of foreign policy independently, it would be a feather in his cap. Best wishes and best of luck Kaptan!
(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist. The views expressed are personal.)