de facto all-powerful Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has done it again. The PPP swept the AJK elections by bagging 21 seats, while the main challenger, the PML-N, trailed at nine. The Muslim Conference (established 1932), the only indigenous Kashmiri political party, was relegated to a meagre five seats. If the history of last four years is anything to go by, this is yet another remarkable achievement of a man, who was incarcerated in jail for more than 11 years, was once kidnapped, had his tongue partially cut off, was never a serious contender to lead the party and was written off even as a second tier political leader. With divine help, he has defied all odds and the wishful thinking of his rivals by neutralising the opposition, stamping his authority on Bhuttos party and creating a band of faithful within the ranks.
Our leaders, establishment and our parties exhibited their worst during the elections. PML-Ns Chief chose Azad Kashmir elections as an appropriate platform to air his views on Pakistan politics and targeted the poor governance and corruption of President Zardari and the treason of Pervez Musharraf. Zardari decided it was payback time and took off his gloves, notwithstanding his exalted position as the President of the Islamic Republic that requires him to be non-partisan and a symbol of the federation. The retaliatory jiyala speech, delivered in Naudero to a small audience in the glare of press and television, was scathing and full of hard hitting punch lines, ridicules and insults hardly befitting to the image of the highest office of the state. Whatever little remained of the resuscitating CoD finally perished.
The AJK elections appeared more like a preliminary for the general elections and a contest between the PPP and PML-N to demonstrate their popularity. The local issues such as the rehabilitation of the displaced persons barely figured. Perhaps, the leaders considered the lives of the Kashmiri families to be impervious to the hardships of their basic existence. It is unfortunate that we still allow our electoral system to revolve around personalities in which ideologies and issues play only a peripheral role. Although the people are politically aware and wary of the dynastic politicians, who protect and promote their vested interests at the cost of the nation, the system offers a limited choice to the voters, a majority of which do not exercise their right to vote and the rest reconcile to vote for the devil they know.
Zardari secured a majority for his PPP with a better election strategy and the advantage of his incumbency. The domination of the Muslim Conference came to an end and the PML-Ns claim to be the most popular political party was deflated, at least for the present. Several rising stars saved themselves from major disappointments by wisely keeping away from testing their electoral popularity in this contest. The silver lining is that the process of elections was not derailed by the prevailing militancy.
Our own administration, however, failed to maintain order and the credibility of this one-day event of a dress rehearsal. Despite the small number of voters and polling stations relative to a general election, fighting and violence broke out at several locations in the recurrence of a series of security lapses. Allegations of rigging and forged voter lists have given rise to numerous questions. Why did the contestants not verify the lists and file objections prior to the elections? Will the Election Commission and the law enforcers be held accountable and will those causing bodily harm and deaths be punished? Is it in good grace and a democratic norm to reject election results in case of defeat? Is the administration so incompetent that it cannot conduct this sacred rite without chaos and intolerance? Should we conclude that our public does not vote on the basis of any principles, ideologies or issues, but for individuals or parties that bear a complex mix of influences and relationships in their daily lives? Will the administration, people and the political parties address these issues or the next general elections due in 18 months will also be a similar exercise?
The optimists among us opine that we have reached the rock bottom and the only way now is up. But the public takes everything lying down waiting for a 'messiah that may never come. Nations have to carve their own destiny. It took a few unknown young people only a few weeks with the help of Twitter to throw out Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and his decades-old system. It is the people and the leaders in the Middle East that are waging campaigns to change the system. Our forefathers secured this homeland through a democratic struggle that was based on principles, an ideology and a vision for a fair and judicious system of equal opportunities and rights for all citizens. Our leaders have consistently failed us. It is time for our people to cease following our self-styled leaders and commence leading them.
n The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.