“How happy are the pessimists!

What joy is there when they have proved

there is no joy.”

– Marie von Ebner

While the election campaign in Pakistan is yet to take off in earnest, the initial performance of the interim government is lacklustre at best. This is because of the contradictory statements issued by some caretakers that will have a direct bearing on the outcome of the polls.

Likewise, the returning officers assigned with the task of scrutinising the nomination papers of prospective candidates have shown a tendency to ask irrelevant questions. This also leads to the fact that they had no guidelines before the process was initiated. The issue was highlighted after the rejection of Ayaz Amir’s papers.

It is, however, important that the selection of returning officers should have been made on merit, not just because they belonged to a certain profession. They should have been given proper training before being pushed into the wilderness of politics.

Anyway, the caretakers immediately after resuming charge had vowed to depoliticise the atmosphere and provide a ‘neutral’ setup that would ensure free, fair and transparent general elections in May. But after a lot of hassle and delay when the administrative changes were announced, they were nothing but cosmetic.

Barring a few changes in the Police Department, for instance, a majority of the reshuffle that has taken place is merely eyewash because the blue-eyed boys of either one political party or the other have once again succeeded in retaining lucrative positions.

In Punjab and Sindh, where the administrative setup was accused of being highly politicised, the changes have not made a positive impact on the people’s lives or may have any dramatic effect for the better during the course of general elections.

Some caretakers have issued highly controversial statements with the result that several political parties were demanding that they must be sacked and replaced immediately with better choices. Whereas, at the federal level, several caretakers have complained that the civil servants were defying orders, making it extremely difficult for them to fulfil their duties.

With all this and the continuing electricity and gas loadshedding, the  caretakers have failed to provide relief to the common citizens, who were expecting some relief in the period they were in the saddle.

According to reports, one of the Provincial Chief Ministers in his farewell address categorically stated that he was going on “leave for 60 days” and would return after it is over. It seems this message was directed at the bureaucracy and the police of that province. That in case they failed to meet his party’s expectations, there would be severe consequences for them after his party is power again.

While it is true that the caretaker setups are not authorised to make any major policy decisions, there is no denying that they are fully empowered, in fact duty-bound, to ensure that the polls are conducted in an impartial environment. To achieve this objective, they must use their authority and demonstrate that there has been a real change and not the cosmetic pruning that has been done so far.

Further, it would be better if controversial and biased officers or those who are challenging the caretakers’ authority are replaced after thorough investigation.

One hopes that the caretakers at the centre and in the provinces would give diligent thought to this issue and come up with a solution as quickly as possible. Otherwise, there would be serious complaints after the elections are held by those who fall victim to bureaucratic machinations in an attempt  to support one political party or the other.

 The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist.   At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.    Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com