Has Pakistan’s national politics made an about-turn to the pre-Charter of Democracy days of the decade of the 90s when the Establishment and the rightwing religious parties worked hand in glove and trampled over everything that was just, reasonable and pro-democracy?
Where is the broad consensus on strengthening the democratic system for which the Pakistan People’s Party had suffered so much and made so many compromises even on its just stands? That the PPP has been forced to boycott the elections for the President for which it had fielded a committed democrat and an outstanding consensus builder in the person of Senator Raza Rabbani is unfortunate. The situation that has been created by the actions of the right wing as well as the summary judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan does not augur well for strengthening democracy.
Sidelining the political opposition by the PML-N government on an issue which was so simple and so easy to resolve can prove suicidal to say the least. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should remember that back in 1997 he was elected with a much bigger majority as a result of the historic ‘Ramazan Rigging’ and it was this ‘politics of confrontation’ that had resulted in the unfortunate events of October 1999. All democratic gains that had been achieved were lost and we had to fight another long dictatorship. We must realise that a split between the political forces and the non-realisation of consensus between political parties can lead to very unfortunate ends.
It is our very genuine grievance that the Honourable Supreme Court had decided the matter without hearing the other political parties or other candidates. It is a genuine grievance that the campaign period which was already very short had been drastically further cut down. The PML-N may have its own spiritual and other reasons for asking that the date of the Presidential Elections be advanced from August 6 to July 30 but wouldn’t it have been much better if instead of rushing to the Supreme Court and getting a summary decision from them the various options available were discussed between the major parties and an agreed date communicated to the Election Commission of Pakistan?
The ECP too must realise that even on the announced date of August 6 the electoral college for the election of the President would have been incomplete. Holding of elections when 42 voters were yet to be elected is tantamount to rigging of elections. The ECP was aware in advance of the Constitutional requirements of Article 41(4) that the election to the office of the President shall be held “not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of the President in office”. What was the hurdle in the way of holding the elections on the 42 seats before that date? If the general election of 1997 could be held in the month of Ramazan and be heavily rigged, why could elections on the 42 vacant seats not be held during Ramazan prior to the election of the President?
Now let us assume for a minute that ECP was not able to hold election on these seats on a date other than the stipulated date of August 22. Our Constitution, cognizant of a situation where “any act or thing is required by the Constitution to be done within a particular period and it is not done within that period” provides a remedy under Article 254. Under this Article the “doing of the act or thing shall not be invalid or otherwise ineffective by reason only that it was not done within that period”.
The term of office of President Zardari would not have been lengthened or the assumption of office by the next president been delayed by a single day, nor would the election be held invalid or ineffective even if this was held as late as September 7 or 8. Why then did the ECP, the PML-N or the Honorable Supreme Court not take due cognizance of the fact that 42 electors were being deprived of their right to vote? Is Article 41(4) so sacred that even the constitutional remedy of Article 254 would be insufficient to condone the delay?
Much more alarming is the fact that the PML-N did not opt to sit down with the opposition to examine the constitutional provisions and the remedies that were available. The Pakistan Peoples Party which has always opposed a boycott simply could not become a party to this sordid affair and thus came its decision to boycott the election.
It stinks and it is not difficult to smell a rat in the whole affair. Why was the PML-N so keen on an incomplete electoral college and a very short electoral campaign? Were they afraid that if issues were discussed in detail and the services of Senator Raza Rabbani were highlighted many legislators voting in a secret ballot may vote according to their conscience and in a very close election the tables may turn?
Respected Mr Mamnoon Husain who is a thorough gentleman and a personal friend of Senator Raza Rabbani, myself, Mr Khurshid Shah, Mr Nisar Khuhro and so many of us from our days together in Karachi Central Jail when we were lodged in President Zaradari’s barrack during the days of the dictator is certainly making a bad start due to the shortsightedness of his leadership to whom he has stayed so loyal. Our commitment to democracy is unshakeable as always but he will have to make extra efforts to undo the damage.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2013.