We, the students of the 60’s and 70’s have been fighting for a transition to real democracy in Pakistan since our school days. First we challenged the manipulated “Basic Democracy” of Ayub Khan. There were pitched bottles on the Mall Road, Lahore with the establishment goons on one side and young comrades of change on the other. After spilling blood on the streets, the mighty empire crumbled and fair elections were held in 1970. Unfortunately, Quaid’s country was dismembered and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) took control of what was left behind.

Martial Law was lifted and the 1972 interim constitution was promulgated followed by the 1973 permanent document. Till 1975, the transition was on track, and then ZAB decided to dismiss the governments in Balochistan and KPK (then NWFP). He ruled the entire country with a free hand till 1977 and called national elections one year ahead of time. ZAB’s popularity group was on the rise and his party was a clear frontrunner. A real democratic transition was being enacted on the Indian model. Unfortunately, some elements within the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in connivance with the election cell within ISI rigged the elections in some constituencies. The opposition (Pakistan National Alliance) came out to the streets and demanded fresh elections together with a major overhaul of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). When an agreement was about to be signed, Zia took over on July 05, 1977. Since then, every election has been manipulated (1988, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2008 and 2013), and the ECP remains strangulated.

Our struggle for democracy remains unfulfilled and our resistance unrecorded. When we carried our dead and injured comrades to the emergency room of Mayo Hospital, we thought that free and fair elections would accomplish the crucial transition to real democracy. In 1970 we achieved that goal, but the unnecessary rigging in the 1977 election turned the whole process on its head; the repercussions of which we continue to suffer today.

In 2007, the comrades of change cashed in on an opportunity and challenged the Musharraf regime. There were protests and marches; some turned bloody, but the pressure never decreased. The PPP came into power in 2008. Good, bad or ugly, the party completed its term and followed a constitutional transition. Elections were held in 2013 under a constitutional caretaker set up. Several important transitions took place (President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Chief of Army Staff, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Speaker National Assembly).

Unfortunately, Takht-e-Lahore, in connivance with Gullu Butt, decided to rig an election that they were winning. Once again our persistent struggle for a meaningful democracy was derailed. It is back to July 1977 once more. An agreement then could have strengthened the democratic transition, but instead we had to suffer Zia’s misrule for over eleven years. The comrades of change are ready to march once again. Islamabad has never been able to survive a long march because there is a huge gap between the rulers and the ruled.

Democracy cannot survive without the sanctity of the ballot. Rigging the election ruins the credibility of the transition through the vote. Perhaps fresh elections is the only way forward. The term mid-term does not apply in this case. In case of a disputed process, fresh elections are held to achieve credibility. Mid-term elections are held when the government formation becomes complicated due to a lack of majority of a party/group in the elected house.

Without a doubt, rigging took place in the 2013 elections, and for the sake of a real democratic transition, a negotiated settlement is possible by a complete election audit to determine the extent of rigging; by holding fresh elections in rigged constituencies; by electoral reform and the complete revamping of the ECP; by joint monitoring as proposed in the July 1977 accord; a biometric system of voting, and the election of local bodies.

For the Sharif Brothers, time is running out. A disputed election does not produce a mandate. The promise of prosperity cannot wash away the rigging which derailed the entire democratic transition. The PTI and its rank and file are civilized marchers- different to the Gullu Butts of the PML(N) who attacked the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The Kaptan and his chargers will surround, not attack any government building built by their very own hard earned tax money. As always, the government will cease to function and the business of the state will come to a standstill, exposing the mandate of the Sharif brothers as their rule becomes confined to the PM House and its staff.

After the march on August 14, 2014 no one will ever dare steal the peoples’ mandate; not even notorious rogue parties like the MQM and PML(N). With electoral reforms and fresh elections, the transition to a real democracy will start. For battle hardened chargers, this may prove to be their last march. The struggle for real democracy that began on the Mall Road in the 60’s might finally reach its zenith tomorrow on the streets of the capital. For the sake of the motherland, we will march once again under the leadership of the Kaptan and hold till the mission is accomplished. Ayub Khan might have built Islamabad as a new capital away from the city of the Quaid, but his spirit can no longer be kept out of it; A naya Pakistan will finally emerge from the ashes of the demons of democracy.

 The writer is ex-chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.

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