Illusion of democracy in Balochistan

Published: January 16, 2018
The writer is a freelance contributor on education and has worked with national and international organisations working on education in Pakistan

The writer is a freelance contributor on education and has worked with national and international organisations working on education in Pakistan

Following Abdul Quddus Bizenjo’s election as the third chief minister of Balochistan in four years, it would be useful to review his credentials largely in terms of popularity and acceptability. Before we congratulate him, we must see how many votes he bagged in the general election held in 2013? Out of a total of 57,656 registered votes in the constituency, Bizenjo secured just 544 votes, which is slightly above one per cent. Is it enough mandate?

In terms of democratic yardsticks, the legislator from Awaran district is perhaps not even eligible for a seat of a councillor, let alone MPA or the chief minister for that matter! Within days of his election as CM, Bizenjo joined the Pakistan Peoples Party. The reason behind the abysmally low turnout was owing to the boycott by separatist-minded Baloch nationalist parties in the area. Does his election represent the aspirations of the people who are disgruntled and disillusioned, and caught between democratic and non-democratic forces?

It is evident from the turnout in Awaran that nationalist groups wield considerable influence there. So, is it a prudent approach to ignore them and move on? Surely, one should have explored ways and means to bring them to the negotiating table? Egos shouldn’t come in the way when we attempt to resolve a sensitive and volatile issue.

The general election results in Awaran also raise serious questions about the effectiveness of the Election Commission. How can it declare a candidate successful on the basis of one percentage votes? Instead of accepting the poll results, the Election Commission should have declared it null and void because such a candidate cannot be a true representative of the area. The Election Commission must answer as to why it chose to remain silent and indifferent to the said poll results.

Though Balochistan is a troubled and complex province, our rulers tend to adopt the same approach yet naively expect a better outcome. Decades-long mishandling of the province has resulted in worsening of the situation and creation of new kind of problems. It seems that policymakers and those “forces” which decide the fate of the province behind the curtains still don’t realise the gravity of the situation as well as the shortcomings of their strategy. Bizenjo is arguably the weakest CM compared with his predecessors, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri and Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, in terms of votes and party position in the assembly. Despite allocating Rs34 billion for maintaining law and order, almost half of the social sector development budget, the provincial government has failed to address the issue and bring sustainable peace to Balochistan.

The first coalition government under Dr Abdul Malik Baloch left a trail of gloom and doom which was rife with corruption scandals, nepotism and conflicts with the bureaucracy, all these issues rendered him ineffective. The same farcical scenes were replayed when Sardar Sanaullah Zehri was in the saddle. As a result, the shadow of corruption and favoritism continued to dominate the political scene in Balochistan and major issues remained unresolved. Under Bizenjo, things are unlikely to change drastically. Keeping in view the weak civilian setup, it is not very difficult to predict what the newly elected CM will be able to deliver in the remaining few months.

One wonders what is then a sustainable and effective solution to Balochistan’s problems? The system of governance will not improve by installing weak and hand-picked leaders. The province needs a greater and genuine participation of public in the democratic process. At the moment Balochistan has the lowest turnout in the country — 40.48%. Moreover, if one excludes the percentage of rigging then it will further go down. It is high time for “the decision-makers” to revisit their strategy thoroughly vis-à-vis Balochistan. The province badly requires real leaders with a full mandate of the public, not hand-picked ones.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2018.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Feroz
    Jan 16, 2018 - 12:24PM

    Band-aid solutions cannot treat cancer cells but Islamabad and Rawalpindi seem unaware of the same. 1970/71 should taught the country many lessons, primarily that games of political engineering to bend the peoples will can only bring disaster. Sadly, history has ever taught Pakistan any lessons.Recommend

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