US based International Republican Institute’s (IRC) survey conducted in November last year soon after the holding of general elections in Pakistan, honeymoon period of the government, might be partly credible then but not anymore because lot of waters had been flown under the bridges since then. The survey now looked as an embodiment of large scale miscalculations if considered within the scope of present periods. But its cheeky timing of releasing in the recent past, apparently to boost the morale of PTI workers, gave reasonable doubts of maladies, intentions and cover up. Its readings now signifying idiotically as the higher approval rating of the government leadership and impartiality of elections were devoid of the credibility in the face of well-known and widely published pre-poll shenanigans. The anti-people policies of the incumbent government had plummeted its standing to the abysmal scale that seemed unstoppable because no respite to the people was in the offing. The method in the madness was so obvious. The assessment of the survey as projected was akin to the sleight of hand. It was a bumbling attempt to decipher it to the present time approval rating. It was on purpose to hide the truth that was reverberating right across the country as irrefutable one.
The PPP Secretary General Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari in his press conference had aptly exposed this clumsy attempt thoroughly and comprehensively by articulating that the government’s unpopularity was spiralling downward due to the unprecedented hellfire of price hike those had dashed the hopes of all and sundry of better days during the tenure of this government. The deliberate attempt to ruse the people by design was indeed the height of political dishonesty. The caveat of difficult times ahead as handed out by the finance minister after the IMF agreement may surely guillotine the resilience of the poor people who have already been living on the edges. The unprecedented spike of rate of inflation had correspondingly reduced the purchasing power of poor masses making their lives more miserable. Inflation is tax on the poor that has assumed unprecedented proportion. In other words, it is passed on them eventually by the providers of goods and services to secure their profit no matter what.
There were no dearth of the views casting aspersions on the whole electoral process of 2018 in Pakistan that was seemingly manipulated to bring the “King’s Party” to power notwithstanding the then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s public statement that level playing field would be ensured to all the political parties to contest elections in a free and fair environment. Undoubtedly, the perception of allegedly rigged elections of 2018 revolved around much talked about political engineering that was carried out in the front of the public gaze and the media without fear of legal consequences. The anecdotal evidences were enough to eclipse the whole electoral process as controversial whereas the survey suggested that overwhelming majority considered it as fair and free. Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN), though endorsed the balloting day as reasonably acceptable within the criteria keeping in view the standards of democracy in developing countries. But their reservations of pre-poll rigging were disturbing due to the non-availability of level playing field to the major political parties those were considered as political opponents of the PTI.
The modus operandi that was adopted prior to elections was the initiation of the campaign of defections on promising electable candidates belonging to the PML-N and PPP with tacit instructions to join PTI, GDA or BAP portrayed as “Kings’ Party’. The PPP’s leadership named the people who were putting pressure on their leaders asking them to shift their loyalties. ECP did not take notice of it. Resultantly, a quiet a number of such elements crossed the fence to join the other side of the equation hoping to cash their change of loyalties handsomely and also save their skin from the predictable retribution that might be too much for them to stand up. The brightening of their winning prospect was the added attraction that they could not resist and preferred to have dinner with others. Their willingness to throw their conscience out of the window without an iota of compunction hardly surprised many.
They were generally notorious to the core in this count. Secondly, the witch-hunting of the formidable political opponents in the name of accountability was allegedly in full swing seemingly orchestrated to cripple their election campaign and thus dampen their chances of electoral victory.
Thirdly, mainstreaming of the sectarian and banned outfits to spoil the vote bank of the political opponents of the PTI and also ensure their presence to promote their biddings in the new assemblies. Fourthly, coercive and undeclared censorship of media and intimidation of media houses to toe the line, and actions against social media activists had become norm than exception during those days.
Above all, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its assessment of the whole electoral environment was that, ‘elections have already been manipulated’. It was reported in the media on July 19, 2018. The New York Times 31/7 reported, ‘By all accounts Imran Khan victory was far from fair.”
Fishing out favourable comments substantiating the holding of fair and free elections was indeed daunting task as the rigging allegations had been flying thick and high within and without and their poignancy was not scaling down. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission, (HRPC), the most credible organisation well-known both at home and abroad as such, in its assessment concluded that elections were already stood rigged as parties fighting political battle against the PTI were not allowed to contest the elections in an environment of level playing field. The constitutional commitment of the ECP to hold fair and free elections was seemingly reduced to the platitude as signs of providing the same continued blinking red to the collective chagrin of the nation and to the pro-democratic forces.
The ECP was though fully empowered to take action against the undue intervention meant to fail the purpose of the constitutional obligations but ECP vividly failed to rectify the situation to the satisfaction of the major political parties. The ECP and judicial activism inactions were apparently mind numbing because king’s parties were having the field day with impunity.
In the news and views, media also cast doubts about the level of fairness of the elections due to the reported selective accountability. Putting the PML-N leaders behind bars to favour its opponents correspondingly, the absence of level playing field, piling down the PML-N and the PPP leaders to join the PTI or contest the elections as independent, en-block exist of PML-N leaders hailing from South Punjab at the behest of the others, toppling of the stable Balochistan government to deprive PML-N from getting the due advantages in the run up Senate elections. These days light intrusions were least desirable to fulfil the purposes of the constitution so far as the holding of fair and free elections was concerned.
The political engineering was so obvious before the elections as the undertakers were not at all bothered about their misdemeanours notwithstanding their shenanigans was talk of the town while the national and international media was predicting that the powerful were determined to bring PTI in the forefront through hook or crook. In province of Sindh GDA (Grand Democratic Alliance) was formed against the PPP in a bid to cut down the numbers of elected members of the PPP so that it could not form government in the province. PPP chairman labelled it as “farce”.
Political stability in Pakistan may remain distant cry if political engineering and mechanisation continues in perpetuity. It is the lesson of the political history of this country. Ironically, we have not learnt the lesson as we continue such juggernaut with impunity and refused to learn the lesson. Those who refuse to learn the lesson from history hardly prosper as they are bound to reinforce the inflictions.