The by-polls’ conundrum
A drama unfolded on our tv screens during PP 160 by-poll: A fake election commission office, a stubborn but loyal police, and brazen spokespersons.
Had the frequency of elections been a measure for democracy, Pakistan in the last two years could have given the best of democratic countries a run for their money. A series of resignations or disqualifications and subsequent by-elections has been the hallmark of democratic Pakistan. How much has this chain reaction helped strengthen democracy is open for debate. We’ve just witnessed the drama that is Pakistani politics unfold on our television screens during PP 160 by-poll in Lahore: A fake election commission office, a stubborn but loyal to its masters (read: government) Punjab police and brazen government spokespersons.
Another one from Sargodha is already queued up following the June 10 decision of an election tribunal of the LHC declaring PML-N MNA Javed Hasnain’s degree fake.
One glaring theme that keeps coming up in electronic media’s by-poll coverage concerns ethics. Almost all the talk show hosts have been grilling politicians for cheating. Their arguments: ‘By forging BA degrees, politicians have deceived the people and hence should not contest by-polls’. The issue I believe is grave but the analytical framework used to explain it, is superficial. One election to a National Assembly seat, according to the election commission website, costs the public about Rs4 million. The figure for provincial assembly seat is Rs3 million. According to the ECP statistics, 70 by-elections have been held in the last two years. A few calculations would highlight how huge a burden the few tax-payers are being asked to bear for some Mr xyz’s ‘sin’ of trying to evade an undemocratic requirement.
Had we spent a little less energy on lambasting the so-called cheats, convincing them to apologise to the people (who by the way in 90 per cent of cases have re-elected the same faces), and asked the cheats and their patrons: why can’t they out of a bare minimum realisation of guilt (not of cheating of course, but of wasting public funds) finance the by-election from their own pockets. The free judiciary too could have moved a step further from merely testing Dasti on his knowledge of Islam.
It’s high time we stopped taking public funds for granted because: one, we don’t have much, two, they can be put to million better uses.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2010.