All is well that ends well, but if only one could say that about Pakistan’s recently concluded general elections! Notwithstanding the bloodshed, pre-poll rigging, massive-engineering, forced party desertions, discovery of abandoned ballot boxes, torn ballot papers and the internationally criticised role of the powers that be — these were one of the dirtiest elections in the country’s history.
Despite the plethora of charges that have come in from all sides, it is good to know that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ordered recounting of votes in 29 National and Provincial Assembly seats to allay people’s grievances. However, the affected parties have said this gesture is not enough and is merely an attempt to cover-up the massive rigging. All major parties have demanded a high-level commission of inquiry. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Governor of Sindh Muhammad Zubair has expressed profound reservations over the fraudulent conduct, which he said has favoured one political party, and tendered his resignation.
Previously, I have reiterated that after the ignominious surrender by our Generals in Dhaka before the Indian Army in 1971, there was no power on earth that could have salvaged what remained of this country except the 1973 Constitution, which gave Pakistan a fresh social contract, because of which we no longer needed to derive our strength from religion or our humiliated armed forces, but consensus among the four provinces and its leaders.
Bilawal very successfully diffused the prevailing hostility by convincing others that the battle for democracy can best be waged on the floor of the parliament by a united strong opposition. It was also decided that parliamentary proceedings should not be boycotted
One should remember here that irredentist movements for independence were in full swing in the three smaller provinces and the erstwhile Soviet Union had declared unequivocally that if any one of the smaller provinces demanded the right to self-determination, the Soviet Union would support them like it helped East Pakistan. It was the wisdom of the leaders of that time which prevented the country from fragmenting further.
The most outstanding feature of the 1973 Constitution was settlement of the divisive issue of provincial autonomy — the issue that led to the partition of India and subsequently the break-up of Pakistan. It was resolved that after ten years, the concurrent list would also be given to the provinces. This did not happen since General Zia staged a coup and amended the Constitution to make the central government and president all powerful. With his divine fall from the skies and the subsequent ouster of yet another military dictator in 2008, the elected government took yet another landmark decision by passing the 18th amendment, transferring the overdue concurrent list to the provinces and agreeing to the National Financial Commission’s equitable distribution of national resources. This is the same 18th amendment that was said to be as damaging as the six points of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman by the powers that be since it weakened their hold on power.
This digression is to warn the establishment not to play with the Constitution or the 18th Amendment as this could have serious consequences for the integrity of the federation. The shabby manner in which the2018 elections were conducted has deeply wounded the people whose votes have been stolen. While almost all the political parties have rejected the results, Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfandyar Wali Khan has demanded fresh elections without the army’s deployment. Asfandyar alleged that the elections were rigged and blamed state institutions, including the ECP, security forces and the judiciary for the ‘massive rigging’.
Terming the polls a conspiracy against Pashtun representation, he claimed there was a conspiracy to deprive Pashtun leaders of their seats. “ANP doesn’t believe in violence, but don’t push us against the wall,” he warned.
Although the atmosphere is ripe for a PNA like movement or dharna in protest against the alleged rigging, a grand opposition alliance has been set up to meet the consequences of the ugly post-election situation. Some of the components of the GOA were of the view that countrywide street agitations should be launched so that the PTI Prime Minister is not able to take the oath comfortably. However, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari very successfully diffused this hostility by convincing others that the battle for democracy can best be waged on the floor of the parliament by a united strong opposition. It was also decided that parliamentary proceedings should not be boycotted.
Bilawal also stressed that Parliament was the best platform to raise the issues pertaining to election irregularities and ‘political engineering’. He vowed to lead a strong opposition within and outside of Parliament. Senior PML-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq, while demanding that the ECP authorities tender their resignations, said all parties have rejected the electoral process. However, ECP appears helpless in the face of establishment diktats.
Regardless — Imran Khan’s victory has been widely welcomed as well. It was an eventuality known beforehand, but at least he seems committed to his promises. And while the US has questioned the fairness of the elections, it has still offered a hand of friendship to the PTI chief. So has Indian PM Narendra Modi, China, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran. If Khan could deliver in matters related to foreign policy independently, it would be a feather in his cap. Best wishes and best of luck Kaptaan!
The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and veteran journalist
Published in Daily Times, August 1st 2018.