The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) has issued a Fatwa that it is a religious obligation on everyone to vote. Should one be happy at the fact that the Ulema Council is inclined towards democracy? Or perhaps, be unnerved that it has got to this. The PUC has to be lauded and it is heartening to see some top clerics being pro-democracy. Yet, it also points to the fact that there is only one language that we speak and understand now. That language is religion. When the Returning Officers were quizzing candidates about religious scriptures inside the courtrooms, it was mostly the candidates who belonged to parties being targeted by the TTP on the outside. Have we no sense of timing?
In Iran, all candidates for office are scrutinised; there is a pre-selection of candidates by the Guardian Council. The Council ensures that only those candidates that fulfil the requirements of being sufficiently religious and believing in the foundations of the Iranian Republic are allowed to contest. In short, it is exactly what Articles 62 and 63 were intended to do. And yet, there is politics, political parties, elections and disagreements. It is only that all politics is then conducted within that defined parameter. Political parties are radical and status quo, left and right, within these confines.
There was yet another attack on the ANP in Karachi on April 26. Yet again people die, and yet again most of the rest remain silent. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM continue to be under fire. The candidates are being murdered, corner meetings attacked and pamphlets distributed. This is happening while the PML-N and the PTI hold large political rallies and are campaigning in full swing. When the PML-N and the PTI say that the next election is all about Punjab, they are truer than they know. And that is scary.
Peaceful transition, free and fair elections, people’s right to choose, etc are lies. This election is rigged. Almost all elections in Pakistan have been rigged, this is just rigged a bit more. Also, the body count has never been this high. The elections have always been rigged by the state and have always been rigged in one direction. The IJIs and the MMAs had one mandate, to defeat the liberal parties. Now, the TTP has taken over from where they left off. There has been a lethal, horrifying convergence of interest, even if inadvertent, between the state and the non-state actors. The violence of the TTP, the suspicion of the liberal and nationalist by the traditional establishment, the misplaced and somewhat idiotic sense of integrity, even-handedness by the ECP and media means you can say goodbye to a free and fair election already. Choices are being restricted, the political spectrum becoming one-sided, almost like a theocracy but only worse. At this rate, the choices in the Pakistan will soon be the religious right, ultra-right and whack job crazy, murderous religious fanatical right. Some people think that threat of fanaticism is being overstated and nuance is required, etc. They are wrong. The Barbarians are not only inside the gates, they are now driving everyone else out.
At a very basic level, this is one of the most ideologically divided elections in our history. The ideological question of singular importance is whether one is for or against murder in the name of religion, tyranny and female education, etc. Easy question, one would have thought. To emphasise how easy the question should be, let me quote David Sedaris on a US election. “To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of s**t with bits of broken glass in it?” To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” And it seems it is an easy question in Pakistan, only the answer is dead wrong. We are not having the chicken.
In another way, this is the most non-ideological election in our history. One side of the divide is being made irrelevant and dead. The other side is all the same. It wants a religious welfare state and has no quarrel with the estranged and extremely angry brothers of ours doing all the killing. Courage is now not being particularly afraid when you are under no threat, while having your loved ones and party workers killed does not deserve sympathy since you will play the ‘victim card’. Never mind that you are victims. The Commando is back in town these days, and his remark on Mukhtaran Mai and women getting raped to get visas still has resonance.
The ECP has sought to inject some (dark) humour in the prevailing doom and gloom. The ECP, in its infinite wisdom, has said that seeking of votes on the basis of religion and sect is now an offence. Why start now Sirs. Perhaps, only if attention was paid at the time of registration, even simply to the names of the parties. In any event, the stance of the ASWJ on stem cell research and land reforms shall make for riveting campaign material. Reportedly, dozens of individuals charged with terrorism have received permission to contest and understandably so since the Returning Officers were busy with the opinions of other candidates on the all-important issue of honeymoons and consumption of the good stuff.
The performance of these parties in the ruling coalition of the previous government was less than stellar. And they might have been losing anyway. Yet, we will never know conclusively. If they lose now, they are losing in a fight which is not even close to being fair. Elections should be on time. Elections are all we have got and are unquestionably better than any other alternatives. Freddie Mercury’s “The Show must go on” is all one can think of. And so it must, yet at an agonisingly high cost. “On with the Show” then, however this is messed up, this will be bloody and this will come to haunt us again and again, even the beneficiaries of today, perhaps especially the beneficiaries of today.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2013.
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