Exactly one year after the 2013 general elections ushered the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz into power for the third time, the transparency and fairness of the elections is still controversial in the minds of some political parties and their supporters.
On Sunday, supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — which was quick to raise rigging allegations after the May 2013 elections that ended with Nawaz Sharif taking oath as prime minister for the third time — gathered at Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad to participate in an anti-rigging rally.
The PTI, which polled around 7.7 million votes nationwide, second only to the ruling party, claims it was robbed of its mandate through rigging and that its complaints to the election tribunals have not been disposed of efficiently.
For most PTI’s workers, who had travelled from different parts of the country to participate in the rally, it was not too late to protest the rigging allegations. But they appeared to have divergent views on the justification for the protest.
For some, participation in the rally was a natural response to the call of the party chief Imran Khan.
“Khan had promised his party workers that if the rigging allegations were not addressed by the authorities, he will stage a protest,” said Salahuddin, a business owner from Chitral, who said he travelled for 22 hours to reach the capital. “He is being true to his word and I am following it.”
Other rally participants realised a year was a long time between the fact and a full-blown protest, so they thought about other possible reasons.
“It’s true that a lot of time has passed,” said Zaheer Abbas Baloch, a car dealer from Multan. “But it might be that the party leadership needed this much time to collect proof of rigging in the general elections.”
For Baloch and many others at the gathering, the ruling party’s one-year progress report also provided a cause to repeat PTI’s election campaign slogan of “change” — the energy crisis and inflation persist, according to PTI supporters.
“The problem is that the PML-N has not delivered on its promises,” Baloch said. “The concerns of the poor have not been resolved. There should be a change.”
Alisha, a PTI worker from Bahawalpur who only gave her first name, agreed with Baloch.
“The PML-N’s performance has not been impressive,” she said. “There must be change — either the government is toppled or it changes its indifferent attitude towards the masses.”
If rigging is proved in some constituencies, it can cast a shadow of doubt over the entire electoral exercise. But, by Sunday afternoon, the PTI leadership had maintained it is not demanding mid-term elections, just a recount in four constituencies in Lahore, all of which went to PML-N candidates.
There were, however, quite a few PTI supporters who felt strongly about fresh elections. Salahuddin said if proof of rigging was found in the four constituencies, it would expose the PML-N government. Tabarik Shah, a 17-year-old from Rawalpindi’s Dhok Hassu, who was not even of voting age yet, said he welcomed mid-term elections.
“The people of Pakistan understand politics now and they have enough political awareness not to be fooled by corrupt politicians,” said Shah, who is a student and an air-conditioner repairman. “If people elected the government last year, they can dislodge it this year as well,” he added.
But Abdul Waheed, a civil servant from Lahore, claimed the anti-rigging demonstration was less in the party’s self-interest and more for the greater good.
“The last thing we can do is to use our right to peaceful protest so rigging is never repeated again in future elections, including the local government elections,” Waheed said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2014.