Allegations of pre-poll rigging abound — in fact growing louder as we get closer to the July 25 vote. Initially it was the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that was critcising the role of the institutions — including the judiciary, the caretakers, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) — but now the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is also raising questions of impartiality on the part of those duty-bound to provide level-playing field to all in the fray.
Speaking in Senate the other day, its former chairperson Raza Rabbani labelled the not-yet-held elections as “already controversial”, slamming at the “meddling” as well as the “failure” of the ECP to perform its constitutional role. Rabbani, along with Sherry Rehman, the leader of opposition in the upper house, spoke of a few more “controversial” moves — “coercing candidates into changing loyalties”; extending the polling time by an hour “at the request of one party”; granting first grade magisterial powers to people other than the presiding officers; and “bringing to the forefront” the candidates of proscribed parties. The PPP senators call for the ECP to take parliament into confidence regarding the “controversial” moves, with Rabbani even lamenting “discrimination against only two parties”. And with mounting security threats forcing Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to scrap his rallies planned in Peshawar and Malakand, a big question mark also hangs over the competence of caretakers to hold peaceful elections.
The complaints of a ‘missing’ level-playing election field by two leading parties of the country cannot just be dismissed as obvious quibbles of those in trouble. The opposing parties and their supporters and sympathisers are understood to deride these complaints, but those entrusted with the responsibility of holding free, fair and peaceful election need to take them seriously or else we will be in for yet another tumultuous term of government, featuring protests and sit-ins — something that the country cannot afford in view of the internal and external threats that number so many.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2018.