Elections, Neither Fair Nor Free! Naeem Tahir

Remember: It was a smaller allegation of rigging in 1977 when the PNA movement brought Bhutto’s government down and martial law was imposed

Elections 2013 are over but there are many open questions to be answered. The voters had a ‘hope’ this time, hope in the eyes and hope in the body language. Hope that had not been seen since 1970. It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s campaign in 1970 for the then Pakistan People’s Party that brought hope to the poor masses of the country and they voted for ‘change’. The change occurred. Whether that change was consolidated or used for betterment is a matter that can be debated, but the undeniable fact is that Bhutto’s campaign raised a hope that was not seen in the masses for four decades, until this year, 2013. This time there was hope in the eyes of the young voters, in the eyes of women, and in the eyes of the urban middle class, which hardly ever voted before. This hope was generated by Imran Khan and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. It was a sterling contribution because the people must have hope of fairness in the system and in their country to become a ‘nation’.

On the morning of the May 11, 2013, it was refreshing to see young people dressed up, smiles on their faces, headed towards the polling stations with twinkling eyes. They knew they were going to bring a change in the country and make it a better place to inhabit. The queues of voters started to form well before the polling time and hundreds of voters – men and women, young and old, healthy and sick on wheel chairs – waited with hope to change their country’s system for betterment. These were mostly the ‘new voters’ who had rushed early. The conventional voter comes late. The new voter had raised the percentage of the turnout from the previous 40 percent to about 60 percent of votes cast.

But the disappointments were to set in, deeper as the night set in. By the next morning a lot of hope of the new voter was shattered. Credible stories of rigging, mismanagement, and highhandedness prevailed. Several candidates who seemed to be winning as the results came in on TV in the evening were found to be unsuccessful when voters woke up in the morning. What happened is the question to which an answer is to be found.

The allegations of rigging and mismanagement are easily believed because people know from experience that this happens. But in modern day and time proofs are also available. If readers are interested then look at the social media and the internet. In particular the internet link http://propakistani.pk/2013/05/11/election-rigging-videos-and-images-go-viral-on-social-media/

This link has several titles, photographs and videos: 1.Man Opening, Rigging the Ballot Box in NA-251. 2. Clear Video of Election Rigging from NA-219 (Hyderabad) 3.Female Voters Presenting Bangles to Police 4. Fake Voter Caught in Lahore 5. Election Rigging Caught by Rangers 6.Poll Rigging in NA251 (Karachi) 7.Ballot Boxes Kicked and Falling Apart On Roads.8.Election Rigging in Punjab.9.Lady Protesting and Shouting over Rigging Incidents in Karachi.10.Rigging Exposed.11.Karachi Police sleeping during Polling.12.Election Rigging Video from NA-253 (Karachi).13.Another Election Rigging Video from Karachi.14.Ballot Books Found on Karachi Roads. 15. Ballot Papers Spread on Roads in Karachi.16. Ballot Box and Papers in the fields.

These are mostly from Karachi but in the following days the reports of incidents in Punjab and other provinces including Waziristan have taken over. A demand has been made for re-polling or recounting in almost 40 constituencies; whereas 49 polling stations had more than 100 percent turnout!

The claim to the fairness of the polls is exposed. Free polls! How can any poll be called distantly free if the applicants are disqualified or qualified arbitrarily? There are instances of glaring discrimination in the application of article 62 and 63 of the constitution. It has been clearly demonstrated that the rfeturning officers, who were members of the judiciary, let 56 identified terrorists pass the test of scrutiny under clause 62/63 of the constitution, while the APML chief Syed Pervez Musharraf was disqualified under the same clauses. The judge in Peshawar was so overridden by prejudice that he declared a ban on Musharraf for life, a decision completely beyond his scope and reflective of the prejudice that he and some of his colleagues hold. Arbitrarily, many returning officers asked irrelevant, frivolous, prejudiced and embarrassing questions to female candidates who wished to contest.

There were hundreds of workers killed in bomb blasts on different political parties’ rallies. Some workers, even candidates, were killed or abducted. Threats to candidates and workers were given by the Taliban and other extreme groups. So where was the claimed ‘freedom’ of elections or electorate or the candidates? And what happened to the condition of 25 percent mandatory vote by women?

There is now a growing protest across the country. The Election Commission (EC) must wake up and stop behaving like an ostrich. The EC has so far only taken minimum cognizance, like re-polling in 42 polling stations of NA 250 Karachi. But there are about 40 constituencies that have been disputed by one party or the other.

Remember: It was a smaller allegation of rigging in 1977 when the PNA movement brought Bhutto’s government down and martial law was imposed. The movement was launched by the danda bardar parties of the rightwing who demonstrated support to Ziaul Haq. The protest was followed by the darkest period in the history of Pakistan.

It is a wakeup call for the EC. Wake up please. The hope of change and betterment when taken away from the voters is not just sad, it deeply damages one’s faith. The EC must redress the grievances. If a candidate genuinely loses, then the supporters are mature enough to understand, and realise that there is more work to be done. But they cannot accept rigging as a part of life. Corruption is exactly what the people of Pakistan are fighting against. Their patience should not be tested for too long. Protests can get ugly and destructive.

If necessary let the army conduct elections in the disputed constituencies.

The writer is the former CEO Pakistan National Council of the Arts; Chairman Fruit processing Industries; Chairman UNESCO Theatre Institute Pakistan; COO ‘ICTV’ USA, and currently, Senior Vice President APML(Central). He can be reached at [email protected]

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