Rule of ballot

In 2007 when civil society came out in support of the Lawyers Movement, the purpose was to enforce the rule of law. Restoration of the deposed judges were a means to an end. Iftikhar Chaudhry’s defiance was praise worthy, which combined with the agitational skills of Comrade Aitzaz Ahsan produced a winning combination. There were protests and long marches. Once again the power of the people prevailed over the hegemony of the establishment.

As restored Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Chaudhry proved to be a disaster. Instead of rule of law and ballot, what the nation got was ‘Vakilgardi’ (vandalism of the lawyers). Instead of deciding cases on legal arguments, muscle power took over. It reminded me of our struggle in the sixties to earn the right to vote which meant rule of the ballot. What we have today in the seventeen year of the 21st century is neither rule of law nor ballot. As progressive members of the society what are our options?

In the sixties while still in our teens we challenged the ‘Rule of Thana’ imposed by the first usurper Ayub Khan. After pitched battles, we the young warriors of democracy and freedom toppled the ‘Ayub Empire’ and his dream of passing on the mantle to his son Capt Gohar Ayub Khan could not materialise. General Yahya Khan, the second Khaki ruler, promised free and fair elections on the basis of adult franchise. He kept his word; rule of ballot was established for the first time in the country. When he refused to transfer power civil war started in the Eastern Wing and the rest is history. As elected leader of the Western Wing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) came into power.

The unanimous 1973 constitution is a hallmark of this democratic era that keeps us united as a federation. The next election in 1977, the first under the new document was disputed by the high handedness of a few electable who had managed to surround Quaid-e-Awam. Zia’s martial law not only disfigured the constitution, he introduced a new form of sham ballot which he termed ‘Positive Results’. Ten electoral exercises have been manipulated since then, seriously denting the rule of the ballot.

As a nation, we have gone through a complete cycle of ‘Rule of Thana’ that was introduced in 1958 and then re-imposed again in 1985. Rawalpindi formed parties (PML-C, PML-F, PML-Pagara, PML-N, PML-Q, MQM, MMA, IJI etc) have no faith in the ballot as they lack grass root support. Rule of law has been a big disappointment, now it is time to launch a struggle for the rule of ballot.

Civil society has to come on the streets for major electoral reforms in which no political party or state institution seems interested. The choices for the nation have now narrowed down to ballot or blood. In 2013 when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was riding a high wave, there was a big debate on the sanctity of the ballot. The upper deck politicos of PTI, who are themselves a product of Rawalpindi formed parties, convinced the Kaptaan that the electoral exercise would be fair which it was not. It proved to be a major error of judgment on the day of polling. There was a spontaneous protest at Lalik Chowk in DHA, Lahore. With Kaptaan hospitalised there was no one to lead and the Dharna in 2014 was too late and ill-planned by Rawalpindi politicos.

In the sham Jan 2, 1965 presidential elections, Ayub Khan was relying on the ‘Thana’ to deliver. Every SHO was tasked to pick up the member of the electoral college which were called ‘Basic Democrats’, ensure his vote and then keep him under house arrest till, the results were announced. It was a classic example of the ‘Rule of Thana’ as was witnessed in recent bye election in Lahore where men in Police uniform were seen hanging bunters and posters in the constituency for the PML-N candidate. With complete support of administrative set in Punjab PML-N remains unbeatable, this is an undeniable ground reality.

Despite several odds Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah challenged the might of the establishment. The students of Karachi the birth place of the Jinnah’s devised an effective strategy to neutralise the ‘Thana’. On the day of the elections group of students surrounded the ‘Thana’s’ of Karachi as a result the Basic Democrats were rendered free to vote according to their conscience. Ms. Jinnah prevailed in Karachi over the might of the dictator. It proved to be a beginning of the end for the General and fake Field Marshal.

The nation is moving towards another electoral exercise under the current set-up it will be the eleventh futile effort to determine the will of the people. Recently the Lahore High court (LHC) has issued restraining orders against the interference of the Interior Minister in NADRA affairs, which is an autonomous body with its own board and Chairman. The authority is the custodian of citizens data including electoral lists. The previous Chairman Tariq Malik was harassed and forced to resign when he refused to cover the PML-N rigging. He was instructed to use ‘Pola Hath’ (soft hand) which he did not as it was against his professional code.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is another disaster. Its neutrality and ability to conduct a free and fair election is seriously questionable and then the returning officers who failed to perform their duties. The Supreme Court Commission has pointed out serious irregularities in the electoral process yet none of them have been corrected why is there no suo moto notice for electoral reforms? The same flawed process continues for positive results.

Unless there is major process correction I see revolution and bloodshed. The Rawalpindi formed parties will never accept the ‘Rule of Ballot’ unless their khaki mentors pull the plug on them. The current loot, plunder and roguery will lead us nowhere. Almost all national institutions have been dismantled, only the khakis remain intact. The agencies have collected tons of data that should be used or at least leaked like the ‘Dawn Leaks’ for the nation to know the facts. Rule of law remains a far cry, though I have pinned high hopes on the new CJP. For the will of the people to prevail civil society has to take the lead. Pakistan was created through ballot and only it can sustain it. Rule of law and ballot is the fundamental need of a nation, which can no longer be denied.


The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email:

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt