Providing remedial measures, or bringing the whole moth-eaten edifice down?
‘The more a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.’
There is a protest call for May 11 from two different parties: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Tahirul Qadri. Both have one thing in common: strong reservations about the electoral system and the results of the last elections paving the way for the PML-N-led government to take charge. Tahirul Qadri’s reservations extend to the system itself and its transparency and relevance in ever allowing any credible leadership to emerge in the country. He calls it undemocratic in essence.
Both have a point. The electoral system is corrupt as was amply demonstrated during the last elections and the subsequent failed attempts by PTI to have its reservations and complaints remedied. Because of the deep tentacles of the traditional ruling hierarchy and its close networking with other organs of the state that were instrumental in rigging the elections, there was no heeding the complaints. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the Election Tribunals, the Returning Officers (ROs) and, ultimately, the judiciary itself did not appear inclined to listen to even some of the most genuine complaints of the aggrieved party which principally pertained to the demand for the finger print verification in four test constituencies in Lahore. Instead of heeding this justifiable demand, the government went for sacking the NADRA chief who had agreed in principle to conduct the necessary finger print verification in the concerned constituencies. He was sent packing in the middle of the night and his family threatened with dire consequences if he resorted to legal recourse. The ROs were profusely praised by none other than the former chief justice who has, therefore, also been accused of complicity in the act of rigging. The election tribunals behaved like they did not exist. So, after a year of knocking at all available doors, PTI realised that it had to resort to different methods to be heard.
Because of the deep tentacles of the traditional ruling hierarchy and its close networking with other organs of the state that were instrumental in rigging the elections, there was no heeding the complaints… Instead of heeding this justifiable demand, the government went for sacking the NADRA chief who had agreed in principle to conduct the necessary finger print verification in the concerned constituencies.
Alongside the necessity of holding credible and transparent elections in the country, it was primarily the ECP’s responsibility to provide an effective forum to remedy the complaints that emerge from the electoral process. That, unfortunately, has not been the case. Instead, indications have surfaced that there was a concerted move to strangulate all such avenues of remedy, thus forcing the complainant parties to accept the results of the elections nonetheless. A dictatorial approach has been palpably visible and an attempt has been made by PML-N to conduct the affairs of the state in close coordination with the leading opposition party – PPP – which is built around the understanding that the two will not try each other for corruption and all pending cases against their leaders will be systematically consigned to the bin.
The ECP’s role in conducting a flawed election has been acknowledged by the independent observers. In fact it goes well beyond just being flawed. It was consciously driven to suit the party that had been chosen to win it in advance of the commencement of the election process. The provincial representatives on the ECP played a key role in this regard and their partisan involvement, particularly in the Punjab, was highlighted at various forums. Instead of listening to genuine complaints emerging out of the election process, the Chief Election Commissioner decided to quit, thus leaving the field to those who had been guilty of complicity. He cannot be exonerated of the blame as he provided an extremely weak leadership and generally allowed the provincial representatives on the Commission to do their favourites’ bidding. Once the CEC had gone, the ECP was like a rudderless ship in the hands of people who had blood all over them.
The election tribunals were in no mood to listen to the complaints. They appeared to be under instructions to act in a certain manner. Here, the involvement of the judiciary as an institution, under the command of the former chief justice (CJ), cannot be ruled out. He showed arrogance in the face of mounting criticism of the role of the ROs and tried to settle the matters with the head of PTI by summoning him for contempt of court. This added fodder to the fire as it precipitated the perception of his involvement in guiding the election process along pre-meditated lines to suit one political party. The deteriorating situation could have been arrested at some point but, persistent arrogance of individuals and institutions alike, continued to make it worse, thus generating an indelible feeling that authorities with institutional support were not willing to remedy the situation. That gravely accentuated the feeling of frustration in the face of fraud in the elections and subsequent engineered results.
One agrees that protest is every political party’s right. PTI is well within its lawful domain to protest the rigging of an election process where they believe that their legitimate rights were usurped. That, per se, is undeniable. But, when they go further and state that they are protesting because they are the harbingers of change and the forces of the status quo have conspired to deny that to the people of Pakistan, the element of the grotesque enters the equation.
Islamabad, where the PTI protest is going to be held on May 11 (the day this article appears in print), is already showing signs of the onset of a pitched battle. The protest area has been cordoned off and trenches have been dug up to stop the protestors from crossing a certain line. Containers have been placed to further block the area from the crowd. One had anticipated better sense to prevail.
One agrees that protest is every political party’s right. PTI is well within its lawful domain to protest the rigging of an election process where they believe that their legitimate rights were usurped. That, per se, is undeniable. But, when they go further and state that they are protesting because they are the harbingers of change and the forces of the status quo have conspired to deny that to the people of Pakistan, the element of the grotesque enters the equation. How would the PTI chairman want us to look at his party to believe that it has the merit, the personnel and the wherewithal to bring about change in the country? What has been its performance in the KPK over the last one year to convince us that it can do so? Look at the people who are surrounding him today, look at what they have stood for through their years of working with dictators and despots. Look at the way they have manipulated the party and its resources to perpetuate their stranglehold. Look at the way they have tried to handle the affairs of KPK from the capital and the manner in which they have accrued to themselves the benefits of the government in the province. Look at the way contracts have been awarded to the ones closest to the top in the party echelons. Does the PTI have the potential to bring about change, or has it grown to become even more corrupt than the traditional political outfits of the country? And what, if one may ask, are the contours of that change that it keeps talking about: a mere change of one set of corrupt rulers with another? Further regression, further compromise with the forces of the status quo, further slump into the dungeons of darkness, denial to Malala’s book launch within the KPK boundaries, a fatalistic embrace with the degenerate forces representing the opposite of all that could be construed as change? Who is trying to fool whom? Protest, yes, but protest for what? Correction of certain election process anomalies and fraud leading to some more seats for the PTI would not do anything to correct what essentially needs to be corrected in the country: a change of narrative that Pakistan appears to be abysmally embracing, apparently without a prospect of reprieve. PTI has been the principal proponent of that narrative and the sickness that comes with it. The election-day fraud, or what preceded and what followed it, are the symptoms of this deeper malaise that afflicts the PTI equally. There is hardly a difference.
Protest, yes, but protest for what? Correction of certain election process anomalies and fraud leading to some more seats for the PTI would not do anything to correct what essentially needs to be corrected in the country: a change of narrative that Pakistan appears to be abysmally embracing, apparently without a prospect of reprieve. PTI has been the principal proponent of that narrative and the sickness that comes with it. The election-day fraud, or what preceded and what followed it, are the symptoms of this deeper malaise that afflicts the PTI equally. There is hardly a difference.
Pakistan is in the grip of an existential challenge that is the making of all political parties combined, PTI included. May be, more blame for the regression that engulfs the country today would rest with the PTI primarily for the reason that it has been in the forefront of the demand for negotiating with bands of terrorists whose hands are soiled in the blood of more than fifty-thousand people of the country including personnel of the armed forces, security agencies and innocent civilians. In spite of the government constituting its own Taliban Committee to negotiate with the criminal groups, the scourge of militancy and murder has not ended. People are dying on a daily basis and the nation has become insensitive to even grieving over it. It has been reduced to just counting the numbers. Rape, arson, loot, plunder, extortion, murder, regression, terrorism and suicide bombings – these are some of the features that Pakistan is recognised by today. PTI must take part of the blame for this shameful fall.
There is a lot of hue and cry on the timing of the planned protest. The PML-N and PPP stalwarts are going hoarse that it has the backing of the forces that are inimical to the democratic process. This charade has gone on for too long and has lost its meaning and relevance. If the so-called corrupt rulers cannot advance the cause of democracy because of lack of performance resulting in an increase of the misery of the underprivileged and the downtrodden, they have only themselves to blame for whatever may happen. The timing of a protest is no argument to take its right away. In the absence of remedial mechanism, or its lack of functionality either because of the operational issues or the malevolent involvement of leaders who have benefitted from its unlawful largess, protest remains the only option in a democratic process to put across the grievances of the people and institutions.
One also understands that the protest of May 11 is not the beginning of a movement for PTI. It is only a one-day protest and the subsequent course of action will be announced later. This may provide an ideal breathing ground for the leaders to think their strategy out: whether they want to remedy the genuine grievances, or they want to further ignite the fire of protest that may bring the whole moth-eaten edifice down which, principally, is what is required for any genuine process of change to commence.