And we have completed a decade of democracy – at least on the surface. Now with the general elections all set for July 25, we now have the caretaker setup installed, tasked with ensuring that the voting is ‘free and fair’ – at least on the day, given everything not quite free or fair transpiring behind the scenes.
It would be unfair to call it a caretaker setup just yet, given that among the major slots, we just have the caretaker prime minister, former CJP Nasir-ul-Mulk, who has taken oath. The chief ministers are yet to be finalised, and that particular task is generating intriguing controversy – especially in Punjab.
But while that has been transferred to parliamentary committees, what hasn’t quite come under scrutiny thus far is the utility of the caretaker setup itself.
That there is a need for an interim government to undertake the task of conducting elections, is evidence of just how little institutional integrity and unity there is among the civilian representatives, who cannot trust outgoing government to allow a secure transition of power.
What fuels this paranoia is the long history of crying foul in Pakistani politics, by the parties that are at the wrong end of the results. And of course, much like most other places there indeed is evidence of some form of electoral rigging or the other in the past.
Indeed, the fact that the ruling parties have been winning recent by-elections further fuel that particular fire.
But do you need a completely new unelected government to address that?
Of course, if anything the last caretaker setup has been marred in the same allegations that those parties accused of rigging are targeted with. It took Najam Sethi five years to conclusively get rid of the ‘35 punctures’ accusations, when he was cleared of corruption allegations last month.
So if whoever loses is going to throw toys out of the pram anyway, and continue to do so till the next term – and all major parties are and have been guilty of this – what kind of a reassurance is the caretaker setup?
Even so, the most crucial question surrounding the transparency of elections is: what good is a caretaker setup when the bureaucratic machinery remains the same?
It is the bureaucrats that have the authority and positions to influence the transparency of elections. And of course it is they who receive all the benefits from the outgoing government and hence feel obliged to return the favour. Case in point, Punjab government employees’ getting salary raises as the government was about bid adieu – and this is just an example of a ‘legal’ favour.
What is needed here is a setup, similar to India for instance, where the bureaucrats are transferred to another province/state for the duration of the elections, which in Pakistan could, perhaps, be held in various stages as well.
This would ensure that all efforts at ensuring transparent polling are dedicated to the section where the votes are being cast and then move on to the next – so on and so forth.
However, allegations of rigging prevail around the world, and there is really no device that could eliminate sore losers from blaming anything and everything under the sun. But what shouldn’t be the case is for cries of rigging to almost be a mandatory part of elections in Pakistan.
This can only stem from the reinforcement and sustenance of democratic values and traditions in a country, where external forces have been running pretty much anything that’s worthy of a run.
This tradition where political parties prefer to align with those external forces in a lust for power, in place of sticking together to uphold democracy is what needs to be undone, more so than an outgoing government conducting general elections.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.