As you cross one hurdle on your way to holding fair, free and impartial elections, you come face to face with yet another one. The first and perhaps, seemingly the most formidable hurdle was for the government and the opposition to reach an agreement on a name to head the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Miraculously, we crossed this hurdle with no hiccups at all, when the relevant parliamentary committee unanimously agreed to appoint Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, a man of impeccable integrity and credibility, as the chief election commissioner (CEC). And when everyone thought the ECP was now all set to initiate the election process, a self-appointed Shaikhul Islam arrived from Canada, like a bolt from the blue, and kicked up so much controversial dust about the way the four provincial election commissioners were appointed that even many of the most well-informed legal eagles in the country were found searching their law books for answers. For nearly four weeks, Tahirul Qadri occupied the country’s political centre stage only to be reduced finally to no more than a comical interlude by the Supreme Court.
However, it seems there are still many a slip between the cup and the lip. It is now the ECP bureaucracy that is said to be taking the Commission on a ride. Unconfirmed reports claim that those who make up the secretariat of the ECP under the direct command of the Commission’s secretary have raised a very high, unscalable wall around the super five (the CEC and the four provincial election commissioners) making it impossible for political parties to directly brief the CEC and his four colleagues about their genuine concerns and complaints against some of the bureaucratic steps that are believed to have created unnecessary hurdles in the way of fair, free and transparent elections. Another unconfirmed report had it that a couple of weeks back, the ECP secretary met a provincial governor without the knowledge of the CEC. And on the issue of both the re-verification of voters’ lists in Karachi and the Supreme Court’s order for re-delimitation in the same city, the ECP bureaucracy is said to have converted a simple matter into so complicated a problem that the CEC is said to have started doubting their intentions.
Take for example, the re-verification process. People who have migrated to cities for economic reasons go back home (permanent address) only to celebrate Eids, attend marriages and funerals of their dear and near ones. Under normal circumstances, they would hardly be inclined to spend their hard-earned income and job hours to go to their villages to vote for their favourite candidates. Usually, economic migrants would prefer voting at the place of their temporary abode. So, a number of political parties have been urging the CEC in writing to allow voters, not only in Karachi, but all over the country to vote at their temporary addresses rather than waste a lot of money and official man hours in trying to re-verify the voters’ lists. If anyone wants to vote at one’s permanent address, one can easily inform the CEC of one’s intention and have his/her name entered in the voters’ list at the permanent address in accordance with the rules laid down for the purpose.
Moreover, the issue of delimitation is said to have been made to look more complicated by the Commission’s bureaucracy than it is. According to a Sindh PPP memorandum sent to the CEC, during December 2007, the month Benazir Bhutto was killed, and April 2008, the statistical division of the government of Pakistan undertook a ‘secret’ exercise to ‘ manipulate’ population demarcation with, as the memorandum charged, ulterior political motives.
When the actual house counting exercise started, there was a flood of complaints, alleged the memorandum. Home numbers, it further alleged, were put even on shops and electric motor pump cabins in buildings, and on more than one door of a single house, while large areas were simply not visited by the enumerators. So, now the culprit is the Commission’s bureaucracy, which has many years’ experience of rigging elections and manipulating results. The ECP needs to overcome this hurdle immediately if it wants to adhere to its promise of holding genuinely fair, free and impartial polls.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2013.