‘Free and fair elections' is a myth in Pakistan and there are reasons to believe as to why people or parties have little trust and faith in the outcome of elections.
Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), despite headed by people like Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim or even the present one, Justice (retd) Sardar Raza, still have not been able to establish its trust and confidence. All is not merely their fault as elections are often ‘stolen’ outside the ECP.
Except for 1970 elections and to some extent 2008 elections, all electoral process faced allegations of manipulation or alleged involved by the intelligence agencies like in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997.
Since 1985 and 2002, elections have been conducted by the military rulers. In 1985, Gen Zia declared it would be on non-party basis, the PPP boycotted the polls while in 2002, both Benazir and Sharif were disqualified followed by post election manoeuvring to keep the PPP and the PML-N out.
Elections in Pakistan were stolen either before or after the polls. In 1988, IJI was formed against PPP, with the help of a premier intelligence agency, in 1990, the same agency was accused of distributing money. In 1993, Nawaz Sharif's government, despite being restored by the SC, was not allowed to complete its term.
Today, both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, in their ways and for their own reasons, feared that election may not be free and fair this time as well. While Sharif believes he will be ousted as party president also, followed by the PML-N not allowed to contest the Senate polls by declaring its candidates as Independent, Imran Khan suspects that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has a role in dealing with the election strategy of the PML-N.
Sharif terms his disqualification and his ouster as PML-N president and proactive role of NAB against him part of pre-election rigging. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has called it pre-poll target-killing of the PML.
Imran, on the other hand, termed the incumbent IB chief as part of 'Sharifs gang' and alleged that he has been assigned the task of selecting candidates for the ruling party.
As the political tension is on the rise before Senate and general elections, the ECP has quite a job to do to maintain its credibility.
This will be the major challenge for the ECP, led by Justice (retd) Sardar Raza and his team, how to ensure free and fair elections. While there have been accusations of rigging on polling day, constituency to constituency, in the larger picture election manipulation often takes place beyond the scope of ECP.
What happened with the PML-N candidates in the Senate elections as a result of Supreme Court verdict was quite unprecedented as it changed the status of the PML-N candidate from party to Independent and that too after issuance of the final list. Can something like this happen in the general elections as well?
The PML-N fears that NAB is being used to oust Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as well, seen by the PML-N as an attempt to oust both Sharifs to create uncertainty among the PML-N workers and supporters.
The ECP has already delayed the pending matters like party funding case and the Election tribunals have also failed in deciding the cases within four months as earlier decided, the commission may come under pressure once the delimitation of constituencies are completed.
But, elections in Pakistan had hardly been stolen by the ECP, though they could have become tool in the past like during General Zia or General Musharraf's referendum and rarely used their independent power, the real manipulation takes place beyond the ECP scope.
Election results of 2008 were by and large accepted by all parties as the process was held in a peaceful atmosphere and in the backdrop of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Both the PPP and the PML-N showed political maturity and, for few months, remained coalition partners as well. Thus, there was not much hue and cry, though the ECP was more or less the same which conducted 2002 elections. Some opposition parties also boycotted the polls including Jamaat-e-Islami.
In 2013, Imran emerged as the third strong political force, challenging both the PPP and the PML-N. These elections were held under the supervision of one of the most respected person in the country, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, who once had been offered by Imran to join the PTI.
But, since all the three parties: PML-N, PPP and PTI, were in the race, and five years of the PPP rule had also increased tension among them, doubts were created over the outcome of the results.
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari termed elections 'ROs polls’, accused former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry of siding with the Sharifs to ensure the PML victory, Imran claimed that the ECP and caretaker government in Punjab were used to rig polls.
Imran demanded a judicial commission to problem which was constituted to probe the allegations. The commission, after going through record and other evidence, did point out a number of irregularities, but it rejected Imran's main allegation of large-scale rigging and observed that they did not come across an organised rigging.
In 2018, it is Nawaz Sharif, who has accused judiciary of keeping him out in the elections and now attempts have been made to put him in jail.
He and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz feared that one of the reasons why they are being pushed to the wall is that certain forces don't want the PML-N victory in the next elections and term it pre-poll rigging.
Sharif and Maryam combination is pulling huge crowds and their tone had been very aggressive and abusive as well.
This reminds me of the days of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and what happened after his government was ousted.
Mr Bhutto committed two major mistakes after he was removed through a martial law on July 5, 1977. (1) His aggressive tone against General Zia and the then generals, who imposed the martial law, and (2) his rising popularity graph despite being ousted as a result of opposition movement. He was re-arrested and tried in a murder case and hanged. October, 1977 elections were postponed after intelligence reports suggested it.
Is Sharif committing the same mistake as such a harsh and abusive tone can help in pulling in huge crowd and making him more popular, it reduces the chances of a comeback. Where the PML-N will go from this high pitch in 2018: to parliament or somewhere else.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
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