Marches of folly

In South Asia on 16. August 2014 at 12:38

Election 2013 in Pakistan marked a landmark as often said, that one democratic Government fulfilled its term and was replaced by another. Yet the allegations of rigging and fraud has put its legitimacy to doubt, and the voices has strangely been higher than the elections of 2008 or those under the dictatorship of General Musharraf in 2002.

Elections do have irregularities, and more so in Pakistan. What the frauds are, and when they occur are important to map in order to find solutions for them. However, it does not fix lack of trust on last year’s election.

Question is, what is done to prevent election rigging, when and how does rigging occurs and is the focus of protest marches correct? In other words, is it good for democracy that the elected Government resign in order for midterm polls to take place?

The fraud

Election fraud is not rare. It occurs in the oldest democracies as well, but transparency and accountability ensures a minimal level. Researchers in their work operate with three stages of election rigging, that which occurs before election, during election and that of post-election.

Pre-election fraud in Pakistan has focus on voters list. These can be fraudulent due to lack of synchronisation with new voters and deaths since last election or have bogus lists. Due to lack of an official population consensus since 1998 it is also highly dubious to compare with estimates. Officials are though already working on the subject with voter verification.

Another factor on pre-election rigging is the physical threat from local powerful clans and individuals. Threats and cohesion is widespread in many parts of Pakistan, and it harms the weaker segments. The social factor of clan/caste-based politics is also a major play into this. Right to vote is already enshrined in Constitution, but individuals right to vote independently needs focus from politicians.

Threats from militants during last year’s election was perhaps the major reason for an unfair election. Taliban groupings targeted secular and leftist parties while the conservatives remained safe, this makes the field uneven and it is not fair conduct when some parties are handicapped due to threats and terrorist attacks.

Another element is the control of the polling station itself. Several incidents occurred where candidates or political parties were inside polling stations, influencing and intimidating voters and election officers. This kind of behaviour also effects the post-election phase.

After election rigging occurs most often in dictatorships, and as the quote goes ‘it’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes’. During Musharraf’s referendum in 2002 (which Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri supported) post-election rigging was massive, without much outcry. However, the occurrence is limited in a civil administration with the independent Election Commissioner.

In all these phases, the Election Commission has a crucial role. Its independence and integrity gives legitimacy and if it is tainted with, the election surely becomes void.

The fix

According to one expert in a documentary regarding the 1965 anti-communist purge in Indonesia it takes about two decades to recover from army dictatorship when a civilian process starts. It all depends on the nature of state and how its fabric is made by dictatorial regimes. Pakistan have had dictatorships in periods with clash of institutions during democratic periods. Such a past makes institutions less transparent.

After each dictator, one has to start afresh to move towards democracy. Last period of PPP led coalition Government alone is not enough to make the system work optimal. One thing is to get rid of past ghosts, another is to fix the mess these have created. Part of the problem is in the mind-set of the politicians.

Though even with these difficulties, the Election Commission Pakistan launched a reform agenda that was completed by half until election in 2013. The 18th and 20th constitutional amendments also ensured the devolution of power, removal of Presidents reserve powers and interim Government setups. It also ensured that Chief Election Commissioner is elected and vetted by Parliament jointly by Government and Opposition parties.

This is a huge change, but will materialise as time goes by, not overnight as some promises with lofty dreams of revolutions.

Governments, not afraid of extrajudicial measures for them to be toppled, can plan in the long-term. Opposition, which now lacks the alternative to call for Army intervention, or to pressurise President to dissolve Governments has to focus on legislation process and forward alternative politics.

This matures politicians, who have been bedfellows with dictators for far too long. However, when one lacks popularity and cannot compete in elections, as is with Qadri or PML-Q, one resorts to emotionalism, utopian alternative dreams and calls for revolutions. This though is a remnant of past, things have changed a great deal. Last years election was less fraudulent than the ones before that, and turnout record high, such needs to be taken into consideration.

The priority

In comes Imran Khan and demand accountability and transparency. Good. If one thing is to be supported, it is the right to protest and speak up against any police violence and road hindrances.

Freedom to assemble is not only a constitutional right it is a democratic principle. Though Pakistan is no longer a dictatorship, it has an elected assembly, despite its shortcomings. A civilian Government, ordered to step down from outside Parliament, given the history of Pakistan, is not a wise move, and unconstitutional. The movement launched for electoral reforms should channel into sane policies to be debated and implemented through legislation.

But such work does not give enormous popularity. If Imran has acquired one thing, then its the role of Prime Ministerial candidate in opposition to the ruling Nawaz Sharif. Such a status will help in the next elections.

However, it begs to question one issue. If these parties and individuals are that die-hard interested in democracy and free and fair elections, then how come they are still silent on the unfairness of election for leftists and seculars? If political parties, of some ideological leanings were prevented and even targeted by terrorists and could not operate freely, does it not show the unfairness in election process?

This though will not be addressed by Imran, neither his die-hard followers, because it is not in their interest, and it does not harm them. Imran’s demands of first recounting four constituencies, for then to demand whole of Punjab, and last recount of whole country is unreasonable and childish. His name throwing of a supposed conspiracy to fix the election lacks integrity, and it makes the criticism he could front less principal and more opportunist.

Pakistan needs equal opportunities that implies equality in constitution and equal level on to which one contests election on. Who will stand up for that? This one-man saviour solution is not applicable to Pakistan, there are good and bad in all parties, the better are starting to come up as the system gets fixed without Army meddling.


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