December Issue 2007

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 17 years ago

Are the people of Pakistan destined to remain in a state of suspense and suspension for most of their lives?

As the polling date, January 8, draws nearer, the elections continue to be mired in controversy.

The leaders of the two major political parties have returned from exile. But while one of them has been forgiven all her purported sins and allowed to contest the elections, the other, alongwith brother, has been debarred on grounds of being convicted.

So is the National Reconciliation Ordinance going to be applied selectively, raising questions about the government’s tall claims of ensuring a level playing field?

Ostensibly so. It appears as if the current claimants to Pakistan’s majority province are getting cold feet on the eve of the elections and are making sure there are no serious contenders for the post.

In fact, the pitch has already been queered for those on the wrong side of the divide. The interim cabinet, which was expected to comprise a neutral group of caretakers, is anything but. Handpicked by the general, it is manned by individuals who have been close to the seat of power: members or supporters of the PML-Q and, in some instances, even their sitting senators. The provincial caretakers are no different — they comprise names that were forwarded by the erstwhile ruling cabinets in the provinces. So the dice is heavily loaded in the PML-Q’s favour.

As if that were not enough, the establishment has manoeuvred massive transfers of police officers, teaching staff and district officials to ensure the right postings in the right places to allow for rigging without being caught. And then the local bodies too have not been disbanded. But what tops it all is the creation of ghost polling stations, which have been provided with stamped ballot papers. Who needs voters, when spooks can do the job?

The opposition leaders have been crying hoarse on these blatant attempts at pre-poll rigging, but for some strange reason the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) remains a mute spectator and refuses to intervene. In fact, it is not even concerned about the fact that the erstwhile ruling parties in the Punjab and Sindh are merrily using funds from the public exchequer to publicise their glorious achievements under Musharraf on the electronic and in the print media. This, despite clear ECP directives to refrain from using public funds for electioneering.

When the ECP appears so helpless in the face of such gross disregard of its orders, the opposition stands little chance of having its grievances redressed.

If the opposition wants to stay in the electoral race and wrest the reins of power from the current dispensation, they will have to take a united stand to force the caretakers to stop these blatant attempts at pre-poll rigging. For it’s not only about contesting, it’s also about winning — moreso, in the present stifling political scenario. Protests post-election, when the deed is done, may not be such a good idea.

And not to be forgotten in this battle for democracy are the judiciary and the media, both of whom have served as exemplary watchdogs on the shenanigans of the past government. An independent judiciary and a free media are the cornerstones of any vibrant democracy. So all aspirants to this worthy goalpost, will have to make them a part and parcel of their present struggle.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.