Two questions are agitating the minds of the Pakistanis: One, should the opposition contest or boycott the January elections? And second, would the forthcoming elections be rigged?
While the intelligentsia is convinced that under present dispensation the elections would be rigged, the opinion regarding to contest or not to contest the elections is sharply divided.
One view is that when it is known that the elections would be rigged, then what’s the point to provide it legitimacy by participating in the process. This argument makes me laugh, pardon me for the cynicism. Who cares for legitimacy in the country till the going is strong? Was removal all the civilian governments by the establishment legitimate? Was removal of Nawaz Sharif government on the grounds that he wanted to change a grade 22 officer legitimate? It has been confessed by the President in his book “In the line of fire” that he had decided much earlier not to accept the removal by the Prime Minister like the gentleman General Karamat. So where is legitimacy? Was it legitimate to sack almost 60% judges of the superior courts by an Emergency PCO? An action which was again confessed to be “illegal and unconstitutional.”
As long one has the power of the gun in this country, everything he does is legitimate. Don’t go by faint wish that the American or the European care about legitimacy. To them the more important issue is containing terrorism, Iran and using Pakistan in the region as their local SHO. Democracy is supported only to the point its does not upset the establishment of Pakistan, which is their ally in what is called “War against Terrorism.’
Having put the legitimacy issue at rest, let’s be practical. Boycotting elections is no choice in realpolitick. Any party which has sizeable base in the people cannot afford to remain outside the election process. Political parties have to retain their support at each constituency level. If the decide to abstain, they would leave their supporters in these constituencies rudderless.
The die hard followers may remain with the party, but a good number would drift to the candidates who would contest from these constituencies. People want to part of the action and connection with the public representatives so that they can be approached if needed. They cannot afford to sit at the fringe for another five years.
The alternate of boycott makes sense if it is across the board and the political movement generated around it can over-throw the government. That seems to be out of reach at present owing to internal and external situation. Even to create such a country-wide movement political parties have to go and moblise their following at each constituency level. Election campaign provides a wonderful opportunity to do that. This opportunity can also be used to prepare the people to resist rigging in elections and rise for the sanctity of the vote. The 1977 movement which came after the elections was for the sanctity of vote. It was later hijacked by the proponents of Nizam-e-Mustafa and finally by devious General Zia. To the revolutionaries who are calling for the boycott, I would request to please re-read Lenin who supported contesting elections and fighting at all platforms.
To prepare for the elections and for countering rigging, I would suggest that the political parties should do some serious homework. They have to cut on rhetoric’s and train their cadre in checking pre and post polls rigging. A website Individual-Land has posted some good tips for the election observers and political parties who want to keep an eye on rigging. Let’s look at the rigging score card using Individual-Land “Pre Poll observation points (Italics is mine):
1. Is the ECP imposed ban on district transfers being followed? This has already started in Sindh almost all senior judges who were known for their uprightness have been asked to report to the capital and replaced with their amenable colleagues. These judges are suppose to be the Returning Officers in their respective areas and supervise the elections.
Similarly, there has been a major reshuffle of police official. Once the elections are announced no major transfer and postings are allowed without the permission of the Election Commission.
2. If there are complaints regarding the transfers, is the ECP taking notice of them and investigating these complaints? NO.
3. Is the ban on developmental schemes being respected? No. Instead publicity at the expense of exchequer continues.
4. If there are complaints regarding developmental schemes, is the ECP taking notice of them and investigating these complaints? Are the opposition parties complaining?
5. Have the polling stations being notified? Not yet.
6. The location of the polling stations is very important. Are the polling stations in the physical space of a local influential etc? In previous elections placement of polling stations were used to rig the elections. So be aware!
7. Are the election symbols allocated fairly? Let’s see.
8. Is the code of conduct given by the ECP followed? Not so far.
9.Are the expenditure limits imposed by the ECP apparently followed by the candidates? In no elections this was followed. Almost all major candidates have learnt how to circumvent this law.
10. Are state resources e.g. official cars etc being used by a candidate? In Punjab a major advertising campaign was run by the government to promote itself and till the last day public rallies were arranged by the sitting government.
11. Have the voters list been compiled to the satisfaction of all? No party has shown any concern since it was updated.
12.Has there been a public agreement against allowing women to vote? It’s serious issue in NWFP and FATA areas. Even the members of the mainstream parties signed such agreements to keep the women away in some constituencies.
13. If so, then has this been brought to the attention of the ECP? What steps, if any, have they taken to address this concern? NGOs did raise the issue but nothing was done by the election commission.
Sadly, doesn’t look good so far. Much remains to be seen when the elections process would move forward. Constant watch by the media, civil society and massive campaigning by the political parties against the violations alone can promise semblance of fair elections. (firstname.lastname@example.org)