The protesters led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, who have overturned the politics of Pakistan for the past two weeks or so, have many ambitions for their homeland. While one can differ with the PTI’s demand for the prime minister’s resignation, few would argue against the substance of Imran Khan’s grievances that the current electoral process is seriously flawed faulty and needs major reforms.
The prevailing electoral process is faulty to the core and it shall not evolve even after the next 20 general elections if not reformed. Without an iota of doubt, the polling process should be rigging-free, transparent and fair but there is another aspect of the electoral process that needs immediate attention of all those political parties which believe in true democracy. The filter that should prevent the candidates having a criminal record from contesting polls is missing from the process.
As a matter of fact, at least 55 candidates from Punjab only, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, were allowed to contest the May 11 polls despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the election commission that they were on terrorist lists. Forty of these 55 candidates, who were allowed to run for parliamentary elections, belonged to the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba which had already been renamed as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). In addition to that the ECP had issued a warning of a three-year jail term for any candidate found using sectarian means to campaign. But strangely enough, none of these candidates were proscribed.
A PML-N MNA from NA-107 Gujrat had been handed down the death penalty under Section 302 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 for the murder of six people during a failed assassination attempt on his political rival in 1998. His nomination papers for the May 11 elections were rejected by a returning officer after an independent candidate challenged his eligibility to run in the elections on the murder charge as well as his alleged connections with banned terrorist outfits. However, he was later cleared by an election tribunal of the Lahore High Court to contest the polls. There were reports of yet another PML-N MPA who was caught on tape attacking a police station in Faisalabad.
It is a good omen that all political parties in Parliament have a consensus on introducing electoral reforms. It is now the responsibility of all the political parties, including the PTI, to bring draft legislation for electoral reforms. For this purpose, the PTI leadership has to sit with other opposition parties in Parliament to prepare a new draft law, take it to Parliament and put the ball in the PML-N’s court. The Pakistan People’s Party has rendered great sacrifices for democracy in Pakistan. The party, founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, has braved two military dictators, including the tyrannical rule of General Ziaul Haq. Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto sacrificed their lives for a democratic Pakistan. The PPP has endorsed the allegations of the PTI about massive rigging in the May 11 elections on the floor of the House. The onus is on the PPP, which is the leading opposition parties in Parliament. The PTI, the ANP, the MQM and all other political parties should come up with a political solution, under the purview of the constitution of Pakistan, to the current political stalemate. Otherwise another military intervention would result in grave consequences. Only time will tell whether the PML-N government acts maturely to strengthen democracy or it will meet the same fate it did in 1997.
Democracy is not about beating the drums of democracy day in and day out. Democracy is more than determining a set of rules and procedures to run government. In a democratic system, government is just one element coexisting in a social fabric constituted of many other institutions, political parties, and organisations. Democracy is about making sure that the system ensures sovereignty of the people, good governance, majority rule, minority rights, free and fair elections, rule of law and guarantee of basic human rights.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2014.