In Farsi there is a saying that, ‘for fear of death, humans willingly accept ailment’. Similarly perhaps the threat of bullet will revive the sanctity of the ballot. It is indeed unfortunate for the first Islamic democracy of the world, that the will of people has been repeatedly manipulated with disastrous consequences. The 1970 electoral exercise stands out as the only free and fair election ever in the democratic journey of Pakistan.

The electoral battle of 1970 was unique in many ways. We, the students of the fifties and sixties decided to challenge the might of the powerful establishment. There were pitched battles with the state apparatus. When we carried our fallen comrades to the emergency ward of Mayo Hospital, we were of the opinion that our struggle for democracy will bear fruit. Ayub Khan’s bullets could not dampen our resolve because we knew bullies were cowards. When there was an assassination attempt on the dictator in a Peshawar Jalsa, he freaked out. Instead of following his own constitution he bypassed the speaker of the National Assembly and handed over power to the Army Chief who then promised to hold free and fair elections on the basis of one man one vote. It was hoped that democratic transition would take place through the ballot but instead bullets were let loose.

No force on earth can blunt the power of the ballot, wherein the end the will of the people always prevails. Yahya Khan could not keep the country together. Mujib-ur-Rehman emerged as ‘Bangla Bhandu’ and republic of Bangla Desh emerged on the world map. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) was inducted President of what remained of Pakistan. Eastern and western wings of Quaid’s Pakistan separately embarked on their democratic journey. What Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy had warned during his EBDO (Elected Bodies Disqualification Ordinance) trials, in 1958 came true. Ayub Khan had abrogated the unanimously approved 1956 constitution while Yahya Khan annulled the 1962 imposed version leaving the country without the basic legal regulatory framework.

The unanimously agreed 1973 constitution is a gift of the first and only freely elected house in the country. Unfortunately this sacred document remains un-implemented and no one seems to be bothered about it. Now there are suggestions to change some of the structural clauses. While change is permanent but should only be considered after complete compliance, which has not taken place in this case.

In 1958 we were moving in the direction of a ballot driven constitutional democracy but instead martial law and its bullets were used to derail the democratic order. After the free and fair election of 1970 which resulted in the breakup of Quaid’s Pakistan, followed by the promulgation of the 1973 constitution it was hoped that democracy has come to stay. The first election under the constitution of 1977 was vital. Rigging by a few so called electables was a major setback and resulted in Zia’s martial law. Since then, the rule of the ballot has been repeatedly manipulated.

Zia brought the electables back from their graves and also created a hatchery of his own. Concurrently, he hauled the ‘progressives’ across the country. The dungeons of the Lahore Fort remained over crowded for the entire duration of his misrule. Till today, the comrades of change have not recovered from this onslaught and abuse. On the funeral of my friend and fellow comrade Jamil Omar about two years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the battered and bruised soldiers of change. Comrade Jamil Omar dared to challenge the might of the dictator when all voices of dissent had been silenced. On his call, others followed. It is a long list of individuals who remain un-acknowledged.

When the fourth Khaki dictator toppled the manipulated Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif with his guns and bullets it was hoped that political cleansing would follow but instead he brought back the entire ‘Thugs’. He used his bullets to overrule the ballot in the 2002 elections that inducted the Chaudry’s of Gujrat back into power. The defenders of ballot did not give up. The abrupt dismissal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) in 2007 created an opportunity to strike back at the evil empire. Lawyers and the Civil Society under the leadership of Comrade Aitzaz Ahsan launched a country wide movement which was followed by a Long March to the capital. Eventually the dictator had to resign and go home in disgrace. The comrades had prevailed again for the fourth time.

The free and fair elections of 1970 were the result of street struggle and it was hoped that the 2013 ballot will restore its sanctity, as it was also a result of confrontation with the establishment and were held after the resignation of General Musharraf. Rigging robbed the nation of this opportunity to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy was born in the bazaars of Athens with all its noises, openness, hustle and bustle. Respect for ballot strengthens the democratic order, while its manipulation invites the supremacy of bullets. In 1958 the founding fathers were moving the country in the direction of ballot when they were hit by bullets. We overcame the first martial law detour by forcing the first free and the fair election in 1970. Rigging by a few electables in the 1977 electoral exercise the rule for ballot was weakened making room for bullets to take over. With ten manipulated elections since then ballot seems to be losing grounds, its defenses have been weakened by those very individuals who are under oath to defend it. In such a situation space has been created for the bullets to prevail over the ballot which has been repeatedly abused.

Ayub Khan’s democracy was driven by the ‘Thana’ and ‘Patwarkhana’ backed by the Khakis and Qazis that is why it collapsed. Zia introduced manipulated ballots and fake referendums which his followers continue to follow till today. As a seasoned activist and firm believer in the power of the ballot, I am very concerned with the overall direction of politics in the country. Sanctity of the ballot has to be restored at all costs and the best way to do that is to follow the constitution

In 1970 political cleansing was achieved through a free and fair election held under the direct control of the Khakis. Then the administrative machinery was neutral today it is not. The 1973 constitution has laid down very clear criteria for election of candidates which should be enforced by the Qazis and Khakis. There have been four martial laws in the country that have weakened the rule of the ballot but have remained bloodless so far. Some lessons should have been learnt by the politicians. There has to be a real transition to the rule of ballot, hopefully without the use of bullets and bloodshed. For democracy to flourish sanctity of the ballot has to be a faith, not a gimmick as has been the case.