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June 4, 2018

Elections on time at all costs: PPP


June 4, 2018

As the country is gearing up to hold general elections on 25th of July this year, certain negative developments in the country have left bad taste in mouth of all and sundry. These developments are: passing of resolution by Balochistan Assembly at the fag-end of its tenure demanding postponement of elections for one month, Balochistan and Lahore high courts’ controversial decisions on delimitation of certain constituencies falling under their jurisdiction, Lahore High Court orders regarding the restoration of certain information in nomination papers, PTI demand of holding elections in Fata after its merger, and Election Commission of Pakistan’s inaction, so far, to rectify the emerging situation enabling it to undertake its constitutional responsibility to hold free, fair and impartial elections in the country.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Sunday suspending Lahore High Court (LHC) order of submission of revised nomination papers has surely removed the big hurdle in the way of holding elections on time. It was very good news for the country and the continuation of the democratic process. The resolve of the major political parties, Election Commission of Pakistan and of the judiciary in particular not to tolerate any hurdle leading to disruption of the election schedule is very satisfying for the people who heaved a sigh of relief on the suspension of LHC order in the face of crippling uncertainty that has gripped the country during the last few days.

Earlier, stench of uncertainty with regard to holding of elections on 25th of July this year starts blowing right across the country soon after the myriad back to back unpalatable political developments within span of few days. Understandably, these have alarmed the people and the pro-democratic political leadership alike due to the shenanigans of the “system” that may be bent upon muzzling the aspirations of the people. It started with the passing of the resolution by the Balochistan Assembly demanding the postponement of elections for one month due to Haj and the expected torrential rains during the monsoon season.

How could Haj season be used as justification to delay general elections when Haj will be performed in August? This epic-scale fumbling caused by loss of senses and understanding of the movers and shakers of the resolution may be discounted with or without contempt and condemnation that sought to hurt the democratic process in the country audaciously. The lingering and deafening silence of the Election Commission on this may have upped the ante of uncertainty. The (ECP) may have made the assembly resolution inconsequential simply by issuing the statement as it has the constitutional obligation to hold free, fair and impartial elections under the Constitution.

The perception is flying thick and high that Balochistan province is being used as springboard to disrupt the democratic process in the country.

It may be unforgiving felony against democracy and indeed to the federation by those who may be behind to trigger a cascade of uncertainties in the county’s politics because chaos and instability serve their parochial interests at the expense of the evolution of the political system.

The statement of Secretary Election Commission, Babar Yaqub, before the Senate Committee recently, warning that internal and external forces are active to disrupt the electoral process may be taken with matching seriousness. The latest happenings in the political arena may vindicate his assertion. PPP leader Senator Raza Rabbani also warned against the looming dangers. The secretary expressed his willingness to brief the Committee in-camera in view of the sensitivity of the subject. He pointed out that the dangers were real and needed to be addressed to save the democratic process from being eclipsed by the ubiquitous anti-democratic forces.

Pakistan is already embroiled in many challenges and cannot afford more political instability or chaos in the country. Indeed, the statecraft might have been navigating through the tempestuous and unchartered waters since the apex court’s dispensation of ‘disproportionate justice’ on issues which seemed political rather than legal. The situation might have been different and much better off if the political issues had tackled at the forum of Parliament as suggested by the PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah in his capacity as Opposition Leader. The ruling party did not pay heed to suggestion then and now facing the consequences of their poor judgment. The court may also not adjudicate on matters those are essentially political as opposed to legal.

PPP leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan made no bones in pointing out that “system” might be bent upon delaying the elections. He made it abundantly clear during his media briefing after the PPP Central Board meeting in Karachi last Friday that delay in elections was not acceptable to the Party no matter what. PPP wanted holding of elections on 25th of July this year as per the Constitution. It was PPP’s ‘loud, clear and undeterred stand that election must be held on time at any cost’. The Balochistan and Lahore high courts’ decisions declaring certain constituencies null and void falling in their areas of jurisdiction may have lend credence to the apprehensions of the PPP leaders. For, the immediate implications of such decisions will be that issues of the constituencies have to be resolved before holding of elections.

The judicial process will consume critical time causing inevitable delay in the holding of elections. The PPP leader urged the ECP to stand up these negative developments to ensure the timely holding of elections in the performance of its constitutional obligation for which it was administratively and financially made sufficiently powerful during the last PPP government.

The Caretaker Prime Minister, Justice ® Nasirul Mulk’s media talk after the oath taking ceremony was very reassuring when he said that elections would be held on time, adding he would leave the office the same day if elections delay was contemplated. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar’s categorical assurance to the nation to hold elections on time was indeed very reassuring about the elections. It may also squarely put cold water on the insidious plans of the anti-democratic forces those might have been badly engaged to fiddle with the democratic process. It may be recalled that he chief justice while addressing the ceremony of the Supreme Court Bar Association held at its building for renaming it after late Asma Jehangir stated, ‘judges cannot endure the filth of martial law. There shall be democracy and democracy alone.’

PPP leadership’s unequivocal commitment in favour of holding elections as per Constitution may make difference in qualitative terms because other pro-democratic forces will get the much sought after political support and strength from sufficient to force Machiavellians to back off because the chances of the success for their ulterior motives may hit snag juxtaposed with embarrassment and disdain. Fortunately, PPP is holding political balance on the political horizon of the country. Its political weight tilting towards democratic side, as always, may compel the power hungry elements of other side of the equation to disappear in thin air looking for face saving exist in vain. PPP cannot afford to take side of the anti-democratic forces because its founding leader Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto sacrificed their lives to nurture and restore democracy in the country. The PPP leaders and its workers are heir of the legacy and they stand committed to uphold it at whatever cost considering it as the best mode to pay tributes to their beloved leaders.

PPP being a democratic movement in perpetuity did not falter in its pursuit for democracy even during the tragic times like the assassination of its leaders. It may be recalled that Asif Ali Zardari even after the assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto did not favour the delay of elections and rather demanded that elections must be held as per schedule. Not only that, he also successfully persuaded Nawaz Sharif to review his decision of boycotting elections in the largest interest of the country and democracy.

The result was virtue out of acute adversary. Democracy dawned in the country, and the nation also got rid of Dictator General Musharraf. It may not be bit of an exaggeration to deduce had the elections of 2008 not been held in Pakistan the restoration of democracy might have not been translated into reality and the country had plunged in an unmitigated downward spiral with terrifying denouements. Also, the constitutional rule since then and dividends of democracy for the nation would have been a distant cry.

Sadly, the flip flop of PTI on the nomination of caretaker chief ministers in KPK and Punjab has been much in the news and views reporting ripple in its rank and file. The people at large may be questioning their decision making power even on relatively simple and easy matters while wondering as what they will do if confronted with the complicated issues of governance.

PTI is dangling with mixed signals on the schedule of the general elections as well. PTI leader while maintaining that elections should be held as per schedule but at the same time urging that former CM KPK Pervez Khattak’s letter be given weightage regarding the holding of elections in Fata after its merger with KPK. It smells tinkering around the edges with tinge of double speak because giving weightage to Pervez Khattak’s letter means affecting the elections schedule. The PTI leadership may play on front-foot but with clarity. With more smoke on screen, it may not bode well. Its impression of waiting for “third empire” has indeed touched the tether end of the diminishing return.

The PTI leadership knows the public perception and their mood that needs to be addressed if it is misplaced, or promoted if well placed.

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