It was undoubtedly an impressive show of strength by Pakistan Tehreek –e- Insaf ( PTI) at Islamabad’s D square, reviving memories of Imran Khan’s spectacular rallies at Minar –e-Pakistan in Lahore last year. Standing atop the media platform, we witnessed the fury of the May 11 tsunami that extended over two kilometers along Islamabad’s Blue area with an estimated 150,000 plus charged participants. So intense were the sentiments of the surging crowds that Islamabad police were forced to erect additional steel structures to reinforce their front line barbed wire/ steel barricades.
Who can disagree with Imran Khan’s charter of demands for electoral reform? Pakistanis are convinced that the present inefficient and non transparent electoral system cannot deliver honest leadership. It promotes corrupt and dishonest politicians whose energies are directed more towards boosting their financial interests rather than improving the quality of the lives of the common people. If the Election Commission/ Election Tribunals are impartial then why should they delay or drag the investigation/ verification process in the four sample constituencies as repeatedly requested by the PTI ? Was the NADRA Chairman forced to quit simply to prevent him from revealing the truth about the extent of rigging in these constituencies?
In any civilized democracy, the Election Commission would have been held accountable for its failure to hold fair and transparent elections as in the case of the May 11, 2013 elections in Pakistan. Imran Khan is justified in demanding the dissolution of the present Election Commission. The then Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, who is well known and respected for his integrity, took the moral high ground and resigned due to public criticism over the gross mismanagement of the May elections. The commission members should have followed suit and stepped down.
Reports of a preliminary investigation in constituencies like NA-118 reveal the large scale stuffing of ballot boxes with fake votes and the tampering of ballot boxes. These are grave malpractices, certainly not possible without the collusion of the election staff. This can be linked to a leading electronic media channel’s report on the night of May 10- 11 last year about ballot boxes being prematurely unsealed by concerned officials in some constituencies of Lahore.
Imran Khan is therefore justified when he demands that the top heads (returning/ presiding officers) responsible for conducting polls in such constituencies must undergo accountability along with their incompetent and corrupt officials. This also highlights the necessity of electronic voting and a biometric system that can ensure fairness, accuracy and transparency in the voting system.
The system of appointing caretaker governments too, needs an overhaul. Why should a former caretaker Chief Minister, whose credentials for nomination to such an important public office were otherwise suspect, be nominated for such a sensitive government post in the country’s biggest province?
After all the controversies regarding his dubious role during the May 11 elections, should he have been appointed on another prized government post? Khan is right when he demands that caretakers should be barred from holding public office for at least two years after the completion of their tenure in the interim set up.
The D square tsunami was not just about venting anger and protesting over a hijacked mandate last year. The re-emergence of 300 billion rupees circular debt and the alarming rate at which the incumbent PML-N government is negotiating foreign loans (22 billion dollars plus in the first year alone) from international financial institutions are causes of growing public concern. During Musharraf’s era, Pakistan’s external debt hovered around 36 billion dollars, which rose to almost 68 billon by the time Zardari’s rule ended in 2013. The country’s foreign debt could well exceed 100 billion dollars by 2018 when Nawaz Sharif completes his mandated tenure.
The people wonder if their country will ever get out of the vicious cycle of dependence on World Bank / IMF loans, Saudi gifts and grants? Were promises of breaking the begging bowl mere election rhetoric to befool the people? Will Pakistan’s corrupt elite ever be held accountable? Do the ultra rich deserve generous tax amnesties at the cost of the impoverished masses? While the government has declared its intent to recover the 200 billion dollars neatly stashed by Pakistan’s corrupt and treacherous elite in Swiss banks, it must also make efforts to tap the vast reserves of ill gotten money siphoned abroad to other safe havens and off shore companies’ accounts. The PTI protest gave rise to a few questions. Is democracy under any kind of threat from these mass rallies or their follow ups? Is a grand anti Nawaz Sharif alliance in the offing? Are the days of the present government numbered?
Although a political storm seems to be building up, there seems little chance of democracy being derailed in Pakistan. Given the uncertainty of Pakistan’s politics, the emergence of new political alliances cannot be ruled out. Imran Khan’s charter of demands did not include a call for early/mid-term elections. If Election Tribunals finally go ahead with the verification process it could open Pandora’s box and confirm apprehensions of rigging/ manipulation not only in four sample constituencies but in others as well. The May 11, 2013 elections could then lose credibility and the government its right to rule in the eyes of the people.
Since other mainstream political parties have also raised their voices against the May 11 rigging, the national demand for fresh general elections in 2015 under a neutral caretaker setup, newly constituted/ independent election commission and strict scrutiny of candidates under Articles 62/63 of the Constitution, would gain momentum. Islamabad’s D square could well be the Tahrir square of tomorrow.
n The writer is retired Brigadier and political/ security analyst.