As Pakistan inches closer to the general elections scheduled for May 11 this year, a hectic activity amongst the foreign diplomats based at Islamabad is being observed. Their flurry of visits to provincial metropolises of the country and interactions with key political figures and insiders of different political parties for collecting information on various aspiring election candidates, related political alliances and the interim caretaker set-ups is indicative of their interference in the electoral processes of Pakistan.
The country has for the first time afforded a complete five-year term to a democratically-elected government. This was only made possible through resolve of various pillars of the State to give a chance to democracy to nurture and deliver. Through the last five years, parliament has made various amendments in the Constitution in order to close the existing gaps that were exploited in the past by various quarters. The uncalled-for over excitement amongst the foreign diplomats over election candidates and alliances, however, signals that their interactions may contribute to influencing the minds of their easily accessible hosts, the political leaders and other politicians who feel elated on being considered as relevant when called by foreigners. The surging interaction of the foreign diplomats is tantamount to their transformation into de-facto participants in the upcoming elections.
Also, their interactions with political figures at this time when the elections are just around the corner give rise to suspicions of financial backing and state support for some key political leaders to get them elected for their ulterior motives and utilising their services later to get their designs materialised against the interests of Pakistan. The ‘Daily Telegraph’ of London referred to Ehtisham Ahmad, a visiting fellow at the famous London School of Economics, as having said that a UK govt organization is being misused by a particular political party in Pakistan for its re-election campaign.
Pakistan’s judiciary and Election Commission are taking a lot of pains to ensure that candidates vying for national and provincial assemblies meet certain educational, social and moral benchmarks to be able to compete for the seats. The Election Commission and judiciary are resolved to ensure that only deserving candidates get the chance to compete and both the institutions have vowed to stand up to all challenges that might come their way to ensure that elections are held freely and fairly. Despite this resolve, the heightened temperatures in the diplomatic community over the elections in Pakistan and their conduct is not justified.
In a study carried out by Daniel Corstange and Nikolay Marinov titled ‘Taking Sides in Other People’s Elections: The Polarizing Effect of Foreign Intervention’ the authors have concluded that outside powers have tried, with some success, to influence the outcome of more than 120 elections that have taken place in sixty-six countries between 1960 and 2006.
Too much socio-political interaction by foreign diplomats with renowned leaders of certain political parties vying for seats of power in a country has definite effect on the conduct and results of any election. Supporting preferred contestants behind the scenes may help them win the elections, form a government and get it implement policies friendly to the intervening State. Foreign powers do use mechanisms to promote their allies, including help with campaign logistics via funding and expertise in an attempt to tip the balance of electoral support in favor of foreign power’s domestic allies. It is not to say that meetings with host government’s political and other official functionaries by foreign diplomats is a wrong way to cultivate relations but overdoing and making it repeatedly, obvious especially when the general elections in Pakistan are only a few weeks away, smell fishy not only on diplomats’ part but also on the part of Pakistani political leaders and their affiliates who are in the habit of regularly receiving them.
The foreign diplomats based in Pakistan will do a lot of good to this country’s march towards a progressive and genuine democracy only if they refrain from over indulging with political contestants. Their overzealous indulgence may make the contestants’ credibility controversial in the eyes of voters. At this critical turning point in our democratic discourse when elections are just around the corner, uncalled-for interaction by foreign diplomats with the aspiring political contestants may have serious ramifications on election results.