ECP and horse-trading allegations

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) move to probe allegations of horse-trading in last week’s Senate polls is a welcome development. Indeed, the Commission is to summon party heads and anyone else who has cried votes-for-cash. The latter have been directed to bring along all supporting evidence. Anyone found guilty of such undemocratic missteps should face an electoral ban for a minimum of, say five years; if not for life.

In the best-case scenario, we would like to see the money ‘returned’ to the national exchequer and an election re-run. But this may not be an entirely practical. The ECP is urged to look into the sheer volume of money that was said to be doing the rounds on March 3. This needs to be stopped. After all we share the dismay and shock expressed by the PTI chief when he disclosed that a handful of his MPAs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had sold tickets for a cool Rs40 million a pop. Though of course such obscene squandering of cash is nothing new for the country’s parliamentarians; given various rumours surrounding the deep state’s alleged role in rigging past electoral processes.

At the same time this development busts the long-held view of Mr Khan that clean leaders at the top will change the way democracy functions. In the case of MPAs from KP, evidently Mr Khan’s clean image did not work nor did the internal controls and discipline that he so often brags about. It is unlikely but we still hope that Mr Khan would understand that corruption is endemic and systemic and not just linked to individuals he wants to eliminate from the political arena. As a starter, if he knows which MPAs sold their votes then he should expel them from his party. The same applies for the PPP and other parties.

And while we have to wait until next week to see how the ECP proceeds we are, nevertheless, mindful that the political parties in question first chose to air their grievances to the media. What is the takeaway from this? Are we to believe that our lawmakers have so little confidence in due process that they prefer to outsource all responsibility for upholding democratic norms to the fourth estate; in the hope that the election overseeing body or the Supreme Court will take notice? Needless to say, this bodes ill for Pakistan’s long-term health.

Given that such electoral fraud has taken place so soon before national polls, this should not be an excuse to derail the democratic process. In fact this is the time for ECP to exercise its mandate and question the political parties about their conduct.

We reiterate that a move to proportional representation system is in order at least for the Upper House elections. Furthermore, the political parties must smell the coffee. This is time for action and accountability of party Czars and their undemocratic ways of handling political business.

Published in Daily Times, March 7th 2018.