Almost all leftist parties and a broad spectrum of progressive intelligentsia in Pakistan have unanimously expressed serious concerns about what many call ‘systemic election engineering’. In a recent joint resolution passed in Lahore, they have called upon a timid but powerful ECP to ensure free and fair elections.
Pakistan is again witnessing autocratic hijacking of the electoral process by non-democratic forces, after a decade of democratic transition. As kings’ parties have been put together to create yet another Islami Jamhoori Itehad (IJI-2 according to Bilawal Bhutto), there is little room left for an even-playing field for those out of favour with the dominant de-facto power structure.
Leftist parties and organisations have taken serious exception to the following manipulations, which are adverse to the spirit of fair elections: a) defections of promising electable candidates from the PMLN and the PPP and pushed towards the PTI, GDA and BAP – being portrayed as king’s parties; b) witch-hunt of a mainstream party as part of selective accountability; c) mainstreaming of extremist sectarian and banned terrorist parties; d) coercive censorship on the media, and persecution of journalists, media houses and social media activists; and e) blatant interference by various entities to influence an outcome favourable to the king’s parties.
Moreover, the recent series of terrorist attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan remind one of the blanket blockade of some democratic parties in the 2013 elections.
From the left point of view, elections have degenerated into a business of the elites, feudal landlords, billionaires and self-seeking electable turncoats to keep the toiling masses either disenfranchised or out of the electoral contest. Dirty money and strong-arm tactics are being excessively used in an electoral system that almost excludes working classes, women and minorities. Given the moneyed and elitist nature of the elections, major parties have been in a mad race to enlist plunderers or influentials as their candidates in most constituencies. These ‘electable’ weather-cocks have usually been instrumental in undermining democracy, supremacy of parliament and people’s rights.
Barring a few exceptions, left-leaning parties have lamented the abusive and frivolous nature of the current election campaigns. Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, curiously convicted weeks before the elections, is at the centre of electoral controversy and the main political divide.
There are essentially four kinds of narratives that politically characterise the 2018 elections. Imran Khan’s pro-status quo, right-wing populism (bordering on fascism) with a moralist focus on corruption and accountability (punctured by notorious turncoats’ entry into the PTI) is backed by his abusive brigade of hooligans and sectarian religious extremists.
Nawaz Sharif’s centre-right democratic narrative focusing on balanced civil-military relations is counter-posed by Shahbaz Sharif, who is selling his ‘development’ mantra while ignoring the defiant stance of his older brother.
Bilawal Bhutto is leading a centre-left social populism with a focus on reviving the PPP’s popular credentials, without any remorse over bad governance in Sindh, while toeing Zardari’s game-plan.
Over and above these narratives is the provocative ideological onslaught of extremist and sectarian parties, which is undercutting the mainstream democratic parties. All the major parties are married to the liberal market economy and an unequal and unsustainable development model with no clear foreign and security policies. They do offer some reformist crumbs to the poor, but no real social change. On civil-military relations, except for Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal, the majority of the parties – PTI, GDA, BAP, PSP, JI, TLP, AAT, ASWJ and those running on the jeep symbol – are more bent on competing for favours.
Aware of the limits, vacillations and betrayals of the bourgeois and elitist/feudal parties in the struggle for democracy, left-leaning parties have called upon the people of Pakistan to come forward and foil the efforts to deny them the right to choose their representatives, as also to frustrate the designs of an emerging coalition of authoritarian, fascists and religious extremists forces. It is encouraging that sections of the democratic movement are now showing increasing resistance to these emerging authoritarian scenarios.
HRCP and other independent observers have raised very serious questions on the fairness of the coming elections. The nature of Pakistan’s dominant authoritarian power-structure is such it raises the fundamental question: who is the sovereign? The people of Pakistan or neo-colonial authoritarian structures? Fear of the peoples’ will has led to fear of a fair and free exercise of adult franchise; we seem to be heading towards a colossal political crisis. Such efforts will further exacerbate the crisis of a dependent capitalist economy and a parasitic militarist state. It must be resisted by relying upon and mobilising the masses and all the democratic forces for undiluted democracy which can be used to address people’s social well-being.
Leftist parties and individuals in the country are demanding an end to interference in the electoral process and have called upon the ECP to ensure free and fair exercise of the right of adult franchise and pre-empt any kind of tampering in the voting process. There are other steps that the ECP must ensure: strict enforcement of the code of ethics for candidates, political parties, state officials performing various election duties and the media – without, however, imposing curbs on civil rights and freedoms. NAB must be restrained from selective accountability. Use of foul language, hate-speech and illegitimate means must be punished. Sectarian and extremist outfits placed in the Fourth Schedule must immediately be barred from contesting elections.
Excessive use of money beyond limits must also be strictly prohibited and violators debarred. No one should be denied their right to vote – women, minorities, IDPs and people in war-affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in particular. All restrictions, visible or invisible, on mainstream and social media should be lifted since a fair and free election is not possible without a free media. Election observers must be facilitated. And, above all, all state institutions and officials in the service of Pakistan and on election duty must obey the ECP and keep their oath.
Leftist parties have called upon the peoples of Pakistan to foil all attempts at rigging elections. They appeal to the voters to not vote for the king’s parties, religious extremists and sectarian outfits, billionaires, feudal landlords, turncoats and corrupt elements and all those who are anti-people and undemocratic.
They have also proposed progressive criteria to vote for candidates and parties who are committed to: the sovereignty of the people of Pakistan, supremacy of elected institutions, rule of law, fundamental civil, social and human rights; a balanced civil-military equation in favour of elected civilian authorities; a fight against religious extremism; respect for equality of all citizens without any discrimination; equal participation of women in all spheres of life; provincial autonomy, at least as required by the 18th Amendment, and devolution of power to the grassroots level; elimination of disparities among social classes and various regions while taxing the rich and spending on the eradication of poverty; and peace within and with all neighbours as well as the resolution of all bilateral and regional disputes through peaceful means.
The parties and individuals who have signed the resolution that demands such steps are: Awami Workers Party, Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Pakistan Trade Union Defence Committee, Communist Party of Pakistan, Awami Party Pakistan-S, Progressive Labour Federation and National Party. Spokesperson of HRCP Mr I A Rehman, Salima Hashmi (HRCP), Jabbar Khattak (CPNE), Rubina Saigol (WAF), Imtiaz Alam (Safma), Abid Ali Abid (Anjuman Taraqi Pasand Musanafeen), Karamat Ali (PILER), Salman Akram Raja (advocate), Sheema Kermani (Tehreek-e-Niswan) and over 150 leading intellectuals and journalists.
The writer is a senior journalist. Email: imtiaz.safmagmail.com