Where the rainbow ends

No effort other than running cases against them in NAB has been made to change the so-called system

Durdana Najam February 25, 2021
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore and be reached at [email protected]

The NA-75 election in Daska is a snapshot of all that troubles in the electioneering system in Pakistan. From third party intervention to violence and the breakdown of police — an important administrative arm of district management — these are a few glimpses of how elections, the cornerstone of democracy, are “managed”. A relatively better thing to surface from this chaos is the Election Commission’s role that laid bare the communication and administrative failure it suffered during the polling and counting of ballot papers. The Commission is now expected to investigate: who decided to hijack the results of the 20 polling stations? Who managed to put the police into limbo? Who scripted this violence, harassment and tragedy induced drama that left two people dead? Once the identification of miscreants is made, the judicial process should be set in motion to implicate those found guilty.

The opposition has been repeatedly asked to sit with the government on election reforms. However, the test of the government’s seriousness lies in unravelling the Daska imbroglio, even if that means losing the election to the PML-N. It will also scalp out the distrust that has hung in limbo the government-opposition relations.

Electioneering has been under the fog for decades now. Though our leaders cry hoarse about corruption, institutional breakdown, and misconduct in the election process, no effort other than implicating the accusers and running cases against them in NAB has been made to change the so-called system. The leadership crisis, as we see today, has never been so visible. The theory of a trickle-down effect of an honest man sitting at the top has proved to be a non-starter.

Most of the cabinet members that Prime Minister Imran Khan is “forced” to work with lack credibility. They have been in every government, and the only ship they have been disinterested to abandon was the milistablishment. PTI’s slogan of “Saaf Chali Shafaf Chali, Tehreek-i-Insaaf Chali (A clean and transparent party)” has been mocked at, and rightly so.

It is painful to see Pakistan not moving an inch since 1977 from the politics of agitation that surrounds two issues: fraudulent elections and financial corruption of political leaders. Every government that comes into power is accused of electoral manipulation, and when it leaves it is blamed for economic malpractice. Another revolving issue is an empty treasury that almost every government leaves behind, which the subsequent government replenishes from the IMF trenches. The only constant in this madhouse has been the culture of elitism, leading one way or the other to the monstrous growth of debt-to-GDP ratio that now stands at 85%.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has agreed to conduct elections in the controversial 20 polling stations in Daska. Will this set the tone for uncontroversial polling in future? Sane voices on Twitter repeatedly say that this will barely touch the wound, leave alone scalping out malpractice from the electoral system. Unless the law enforcers, who stood while the gunmen roamed with impunity killing two people, are taken to the confession room, the electoral water will remain muddied like always.

What has brought Pakistan to this pass?

The exercise of designing the legislature rather than allowing it to form organically has been the cause of corruption. Today, the passage to either of the two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate, is political immorality. The spectacle of this shameless practice has been on display since the beginning of the Senate’s electoral process. Every news hitting the airwave is about the amount of money that exchanges hands for buying votes from legislators in the lower house and provincial assemblies. The Senate that was supposed to be a house of sanity, wisdom and intellectual honesty has become an extortion ring. No wonder the country, even after 75 years, is gasping for constitutional reforms in every area.

Though politics and power come together, it is the politicians’ sense of social responsibility and their self-esteem that prevents misuse of power. We are broken in both areas. The result is we have become a nation of mediocrity. Starved of a standard legislative system, necessary to raise barriers to corruption and create new avenues of development through policy initiatives, we have been unable to produce skilled and responsible citizens. Why would a lawmaker think on these lines when he/she mostly buys rather than earn a position in parliament and assemblies?

The Daska election presents an opportunity to embrace changes and revive the rainbow of clean politics.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2021.

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