I was invited by ‘Thinkers Forum Pakistan’ under the Chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal retired Kaleem Saadat, to deliver a lecture on the subject at Islamabad Club on 31 March 2013. I would like to share my talk with you.
Going through the political history of Pakistan, one is constrained to learn that till 1956, Pakistan was without a constitution and it banked upon Government of India Act 1935 as an interim instrument to govern the country.
The Muslim League under Quaid-e-Azam had won elections in 1946 and had paved the way for establishment of Pakistan. However, its popularity graph kept sliding after the birth of Pakistan because of the fact that almost the entire lot of leading lights of this party had no roots in regions falling within Pakistan.
Additionally, majority was feudals and landlords who remained cut off from masses. Muslim League’s first major defeat took place in 1954 in East Pakistan where Jugto Front swept the polls. Instead of learning a lesson and restructuring itself, Muslim league got further factionalized due to infighting. Absentee landlordism was not abolished in West Pakistan.
The first ten-year political era suffered from so much of instability because of the pathetic performance of the politicians that seven prime ministers changed hands and strengthened bureaucratic-military oligarchy. The first generation politicians are responsible for laying down weak foundations of democracy.
Till 1970, no general elections were held for they knew they would be bundled out by the electorates. Absence of elections stopped the process of pruning of the unscrupulous politicians and replacement by better ones. Once process of elections commenced, power and money was used to change election results. As a result, the same lot of base politicians belonging to select Baradaries plagued democracy and Pakistani politics.
President Iskandar Mirza sacked Noon’s government on 7 October 1958, abrogated 1956 constitution, declared martial law, suspended political parties and appointed Gen Ayub Khan as prime minister. Mirza was of the view that unless desired level of awareness and mass literacy was achieved whereby the common man could discern the value of his vote, his rights and true meaning of democracy, parliamentary form of government would not produce tangible results.
Gen Ayub Khan and his military colleagues shared his views that the system based on western democracy was ill-suited to the people’s psyche. After sacking Iskandar Mirza on 28 October 1958, Gen Ayub debarred 6000 politicians from taking part in politics under EBDO and introduced Basic Democracies as an alternative political system. He also promulgated new constitution in 1962, lifted martial law and unfettered politicians from EBDO.
Presidential election in 1965 in which Mohtrama Fatima Jinnah stood against Ayub Khan and lost saw the first instance of electoral rigging. Political agitation together with economic and political impact of 1965 war put an end to Ayub’s golden era.
Gen Yahya Khan is credited for holding first ever general elections in December 1970, acknowledged as the most transparent and fairest elections ever taken place this side of Suez. However, in actuality Awami League had carried out massive rigging prior to and during polling.
Throughout the yearlong election campaign, Awami League activists together with RAW agents terrorized the people of East Pakistan and prevented West Pakistani political parties to hold public meetings. The Governor and Corps Commander in East Pakistan as well as Election Commission overlooked their hooliganism and defiance of Legal Framework Order because of overall policy of appeasement of Bengalis. As a consequence Awami League which campaigned on controversial six points swept the polls.
When power was not handed over to Sheikh Mujib because of Bhutto’s obduracy and Mujib creating a state within state, Yahya in his earnestness to save the situation launched a military operation on 25 March 1971. It however proved to be the beginning of breakup of Pakistan and triggered a civil war which ultimately led to disintegration of Pakistan into two and creation of Bangladesh. Had he not taken the fatal decisions of abrogating 1962 constitution, undoing one-unit, and parity formula settled by consensus, Pakistan might have stayed intact! Elections rather than integrating the nation disintegrated the country.
ZA Bhutto piloted consensus 1973 Constitution but carried out several amendments to control judiciary and established political cell in ISI and FSF to control politicians. 1977 general elections were rigged by ZA Bhutto’s administration since Bhutto was keen to win two-thirds majority. It led to formation of nine-party Pakistan National Alliance. Complete deadlock created by the irreconcilable politicians resulted in military takeover by Gen Ziaul Haq in July 1977.
Less PPP, all other politicians got adjusted in Zia created Majlis Shura and later took part in party-less elections to become members of parliament under Zia-picked Muhammad Khan Junejo in March 1985. Zia introduced clause of ‘Sadeeq an Ameen’ for competing legislators. Martial Law was lifted in December 1985 but after getting 8th Amendment passed which transferred greater powers to President under Article 58-2B.
For November 1988 elections, IJI was formed to prevent Benazir Bhutto from winning. Money was used to win over 30 independents. When she won with thin majority, she was asked to accept Ghulam Ishaq Khan as President and retired Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub as Foreign Minister since she was viewed as a security risk by the Establishment.
In the 1990 elections, the Establishment was involved in bribing political party leaders to ensure success of IJI under Nawaz Sharif. Article 58-2B was extensively used by presidents to sack governments during 1990s.
In the 2002 elections, pre-poll rigging was undertaken to force politicians to join King’s Party.
Agencies were used to coerce those unwilling to tow the given dictates. Patriots were the creation of NAB. Former head of ISI’s political cell Maj Gen Ehtesham confessed that the 2002 elections were rigged in favor of King’s Party.
In the 2008 elections, although the new Army Chief Gen Kayani forbade Army from interfering in elections, yet the caretaker government, PML-Q, MQM and USA used their influence to manipulate the outcome of results in their favor. MMA was trounced and liberal parties emerged victorious. The dream team scripted by Washington was formed once PML-N left the federal cabinet.
Imran Khan referred the case of bogus voting to the Supreme Court, asserting that from among the 40-45% votes polled in 2008 elections, over 37 million voters were bogus. He maintained that with the termination of NRO and unearthing of bogus votes, the sitting government had no right to stay in power.
About 300 candidates got fraudulently elected in national and provincial assemblies who had forged their Bachelor degrees. 173 refuse to get their degree validated. Large numbers of parliamentarians with dual nationalities got elected in violation of Constitution. Rupees 10-12 billion got eaten up in corruption every day during PPP’s five-year rule. All public sector corporations are running in huge losses. While FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are turbulent, Karachi and Balochistan have been drenched in blood by target killers.
In the last five years, over 8000 people were killed in Karachi by target killers but not a single killer has been convicted since the ruling coalition of three parties were deeply engaged in turf war. In contravention to Supreme Court orders, MQM, PPP and ANP have not abolished their militant wings. Delimitation of five districts of Karachi is being vehemently resisted by MQM for it sees it as an attempt to diminish its prospects of gaining total control over Karachi. It has now referred the case to the UN.
PPP accommodated illegal demands of coalition partners under the garb of policy of reconciliation, which also gave rise to nepotism and cronyism and sidelined merit. As a consequence, corruption, inflation, price hike, joblessness, poverty, and crimes scaled new heights.
The PPP government despite its poor performance is confident that it will once again win the elections by buying the voters. In its dying days, the PM and ministers carried out pre-poll rigging openly by diverting development funds, regularizing jobs, creating new jobs and adjusting officials in right places. Rs 50 billion were spent to rig outcome of forthcoming elections.
Nawaz Sharif has not set aside his piled up aversion for the military establishment. Having had strained relations with all the Army chiefs, he is not prepared to buy the idea that the Army is any different under Gen Kayani. Nawaz extended support to Zardari whenever he was in crisis because of inherent fear that Army may not step in. This fear psychosis from democracy-friendly Gen Kayani, who had refused to avail umpteen chances of takeover, is incomprehensible. Nawaz overlooked misdeeds of PPP and earned the title of ‘friendly opposition because of his innate desire to regain power with a heavy mandate and to have a full tenure of five years. Shahbaz Sharif’s relatively better performance in contrast to dismal performance of other three provinces has helped in catapulting the popularity graph of PML-N.
Tehrik-e-Insaf has emerged as the third force outside the parliament. Imran Khan’s slogan of change has appealed to the senses of urban youth and has posed a serious challenge to the two mainstream political parties believing in status quo. It is likely to cut PML-N’s votes in Punjab, which may go in favor of PPP. Imran’s Tsunami which had lost its steam has got rejuvenated after 23 March rally.
Tahirul Qadri’s one-point agenda of electoral reforms sent shivers down the spines of corrupt status quo loving politicians. They ganged up and unleashed a vicious propaganda campaign against him. No one can deny that whatever he said was not true. He showed mirror to those who have taken turns to plunder the nation. He is not wrong in saying that even hundred elections under the corrupt electoral system would not bring any change.
APML under Gen Musharraf has also entered the political arena. For reasons best known to him, he appears upbeat to win the race but has so far not taken off because of security fears. Religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI-F and others are also flexing their muscles to win seats.
The banned TTP denounces elections, rejects democratic system in FATA and is resorting to propaganda and terrorism, which is not a good sign. However participation of Balochistan nationalist parties including BNP of Akhtar Mengal is a healthy sign.
Flawed electoral system has prevented emergence of true leaders. Corrupt leaders believing in dynastic politics are responsible for bringing a bad name to democracy. Chaudhris, Maliks, Waderas, Police, Patwaris, Pirs, Faqirs have yoked 85% of 34 million rural based voters. In order to save the corrupt political system favoring a tiny elite group, feudal lords prefer sham democracy over true democracy. Law makers are biggest law breakers.
Election Commission, judiciary, bureaucracy, military establishment, agencies and interim governments in unison have been recycling same lot of corrupt politicians in violation of the constitution.
85 year old new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is a man of high integrity, but age factor is a serious handicap. Although timely fair, free and transparent elections and peaceful transition of power to the next government are critically important, it is doubtful that CEC succeeds in closing the past unholy practice of rigging. He couldn’t stop pre-poll rigging and other glaring illegalities. 30 days screening period has been shortened and fake degree holders are ignored.
18th Amendment has curtailed CEC powers and decision making authority rests with politically appointed four members of Election Commission (EC). None meet the criteria of Article 147 of Constitution. This anomaly became evident after selection of 84 year old interim PM by EC on basis of majority vote. Returning Officers have been chosen by members of EC.
Caretakers and Election Commission are morally bound to ensure strict scrutiny of contestants under Articles 62 and 63 so that all bad hats are disqualified and only righteous and truthful candidates with good reputation enter the legislature. But with so many flaws in electoral system and weak interim PM and EC, free and fair elections is a pipedream.
Insecure security environment, liberal/secular divide, rising religious extremism and deep political polarization, give rise to the possibility of bloody elections. Possibility of assassination of high profile personality to put off elections cannot be ruled out. No party will win two-thirds majority and even if one party gain simple majority, it will not be able to form a govt since losers will reject election results. Egged on by invisible hands, it may lead to a complete impasse.
There is a school of thought which suspect that it will be under such circumstances that modified Bangladesh model may be applied to cleanse the Aegean Stables through strict accountability, improve economy, remove electoral flaws and then hold elections.
The media has been creating hype to defame democracy, and suggesting military or judicial intervention, or presidential form of government, or long-term caretaker setup and is now creating a scare of bloodshed in elections.
The onus of electing the right candidates is on the voters; otherwise one will have to admit that Iskandar Mirza’s assessment was right. Agreed that democracy in Pakistan is sprouting in a very sluggish manner, however, all stake holders including Judiciary, Armed Forces, politicians, media and civil society are keen to see democracy flourishing in the country. The process is on and steps are being taken in the right direction to make democracy stronger. The democratic system is widely popular in the world and every civilized society tends to boast its propensity and preferences for democracy and its associated values.
Hence, whatever the fault lines, the system should continue to get it purged from within over a period of time. Democracy is as essentially permissible and good for tribes of FATA as for any others in Pakistan. Presently, what is urgently required is effective screening of contestants, avoidance of rigging on polling day and ensuring security. The only way to prevent rigging on polling day will be to post Army personnel inside and outside each polling booth, duly backed by judiciary and EC. Let the next government hopefully made up of better legislators rebuild democratic institutions, carryout electoral reforms, empower EC and make it independent.
The writer is a retired Brig, a defence analyst and a columnist. Emil: [email protected]