No democracy can survive without the sanctity of the ballot
We the students of the 1960s brought down the government of the first usurper in 1969. There were battles on the Mall Road; young comrades of change on one side and the forces of the evil empire on the other. Self-proclaimed Filed Marshal was basically a coward. He was reprimanded several times during his checkered career. Assassination attempt on him at Peshawar dampened his political will. His heir apparent Gohar Ayub Khan was basking in the glory of his wealth and as such was not interested in fighting for the throne. Keeping his tradition of cowardice, the field marshal failed to follow his own constitution and handed over power to the army chief and went home.
One unit of West Pakistan was dismembered and elections on the basis of one man one vote were announced. The controlled and manipulated Basic Democracy (BD) system of Ayub Khan ceased to exist. For Pakistan it was the dawn of democracy; for the comrades of change it was a great political triumph. The ballot in 1970 was free, fair and honest. However, there were some boycotts and complaints. The National Awami Party (NAP) of Maulana Bhashani objected to the unfair tilt in favour of the Awami League, while Jamaat as usual complained of irregularities. Seikh Mujib-ur-Rehman in East Pakistan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in West Pakistan prevailed on an anti-establishment platform. Yahya and his team were confident of dealing with the elected leaders after the ballot, so they did not manipulate. People’s power had finally prevailed in the country.
The establishment in Pakistan had no experience in dealing with real politicians. From 1951 to 1958 there was a surgical strike to eliminate the founding fathers of the country. Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, the President of the Awami League and Prime Minister (PM), was more comfortable in dealing with Sheikh Muji-ur-Rehman, an ordinary worker of the party. The same Mujib became untouchable with heavy mandate. ZAB was too smart for the khakis and the babus; while he flirted with them his hidden intentions were to outsmart them.
Ayub Khan operated through the thanas to get elected. Every BD member was picked up by an SHO and taken to the polling station to cast his vote and then kept under house arrest till the results were announced in the evening. The operation was executed flawlessly by the ‘paiti bhais’ in malatia shirts with protruding bellies. It was selection through controlled elections. I remember a very interesting election for a provincial assembly seat of Lahore in the 1960, contested by Chaudhry Eid Muhammad of Rattan Cinema and Ahmed Saeed Kirmani, a seasoned member of the Muslim League. Kirmani sahib was a member of the opposition Council League while Chaudry sahib was a part of the Sarkari Convention League. Fearing defeat Kirmani sahib started flirting with the president and changed loyalties on being awarded a party ticket. Governor Kalabagh was no pushover and he decided to throw his weight behind Chaudhry sahib. It was a close contest but the local administration played a decisive role. The official party candidate lost resulting in embarrassment for the president. Finally, when the governor was changed and a new cabinet formed, Kirmani sahib was a part of it. Ayub Khan’s 1962 constitution is perhaps the only document of its kind which was prepared and promulgated by an individual. It was widely believed that like the city of Lyalpur was built around Ghanta Ghar, the constitution was built to suit Ayub Khan. With his fall the entire edifice collapsed.
In a charged political environment of one man one vote and effective/popular leadership and with no manipulating mechanism in place the 1970 elections were held in an open and transparent manner. For the first time the people of Pakistan exercised their right to vote and elected a constituent assembly to frame a new constitution. It was back to the drawing board. A new path forward had to be drawn.
Barring a few seats, the Awami League won heavily in East Pakistan, but not a single seat in the Western part. Likewise the People’s Party emerged victorious in Punjab and Sindh with inroads in KP and Balochistan. With clear and decisive mandate both the elected leaders were unwilling to sit in the opposition while the establishment had no plans to transfer power. The elections were held to frame a constitution not to hand over the reigns of the country. The net result was the breakup of Quaid’s Pakistan. The Bengalis could not take it anymore.
When ZAB took over of what remained of Pakistan there was total vacuum to the extent that he was inducted as the first civilian martial law administrator. The Supreme Court under Hamood-ur-Rehman was getting ready to release Malik Ghulam Gillani and thereby declaring both Ayub and Yayha’s takeover illegal. Bhutto was forced to promulgate the interim 1972 constitution and lift martial law.
The assembly then brunt the midnight oil to craft the most sacred document that has withstood the test of times and is now on road to complete restoration. The 1973 constitution is a living document. ZAB was the chief architect of the constitution and containment of the evil empire. The country was back on the democratic path. But things began to change in 1975 with military action in Balochistan. ZAB was emerging as the undisputed leader of Pakistan, Muslim world and the Third World. He had the bulk of public support but somehow he got convinced of total control by the resurgent establishment that was fighting to reassert itself. An election cell was created within ISI to manipulate the electoral process. With his public support intact ZAB was poised to win the 1977 election which were unnecessarily tainted by manipulation in a few constituencies.
The 1970 election was free and fair as there was no cell to derail the process. Since the formation of this centre of evil every election has been tampered with (1977, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2002, 2008 and 2013). The Supreme Court has also shown its discomfort with this cell. The democratic journey of Pakistan started with a free and fair ballot and it remains the most effective mechanism for long term sustainability of what remains of Quaid’s Pakistan. No democracy can survive without the sanctity of the ballot. Every vote has to be counted and respected.