There is no doubt that major political parties will avoid contesting Elections 2018 on the main issues identified as ‘Backdrop of US Policies in Region’, ‘Economic Development’ and ‘Water’. Each party has its strategy to win by hook or crook. No political party is acting as representative of the aspirations of the people. Protests over award of tickets in three mainstream parties indicate the absence of inclusivity and organisational structures. The entire nomination process is hierarchal from top to bottom. It is evident that the nomination process hinges on unprincipled politics and injustice. The award of tickets in the three main political parties’ stands exposed. As a result voter turnouts will remain low that suits professional politics.
It is alarming that amidst this sacrilege process, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed to act as a regulator of political parties and surrogate of people’s interests and aspirations under the laws. ECP led by retired judges has acted under the ‘fallacy of law’ and not as an imaginative proactive regulator in public interest. This is an alarming situation that shall sink Pakistan deeper into the existing logjam for the next five years. Pakistan can least afford this decimation for any length of time.
Though political leaders will always have short term interests for power and sustain the status quo, it is their regulator that has been weak and criminally pliant in asserting. ECP as a regulator and watch dog has done nothing to kick start the process of evolutionary democracy. There are no lessons learnt from the blunders of 2013 and the observations of the judicial commission headed by the interim prime minister. Even the interim prime minister, privy to all machinations and rigging shows no urge to redress anomalies that he himself had pointed out in his fruitless inquiry.
Intra party institutions, organisational structures for checks and balances, inclusiveness through participatory politics and vibrant primaries are essential to evolution of democracy. The template set by mainstream political parties hinges on feudalism. There is no space for principled politics, ideologies, party workers, primaries and trade unions.
The once vibrant left with urge for civil liberties, labour rights, farmers, tillers and poor, exists no more. Political parties rather than becoming surrogates of the people are becoming fascist and authoritative by nature. Trade unions died long ago. Kissan Ittehad is a far cry in the wilderness.
These feudal or electable (cuckoos) are the same genre that hijacked Muslim League after 1947 and plunged Pakistan into every constitutional and economic crises. The only explanation for this continuing downslide is that all political parties failed to act as nurseries to produce leaders and hence have to import cuckoos into the nests. PMLN and PPP are doing it with a tight central control. PTI in contrast has surrendered the entire process to professional politicians, who themselves have a mixed or failed record of winning elections.
Having remained ministers in previous regimes, these cuckoos have a dismal record in institution building. They implemented policies that negatively impacted Pakistan’s agriculture, industry, clean drinking water and energy sectors. Combined, they can make Pakistan hostage at a wink. Since 2002, most amongst them have major stakes in political industries like poultry, livestock, sugar and energy. They control the consumer cycle. To expect these turncoats to turn Pakistan around in the next five years is asking the moon. They will manufacture logics so that Pakistan remains more of the same.
Pakistan’s elections since 1977 have been overshadowed by pre and post poll rigging to produce favourable results. Sardar Reza Khan did nothing to restore the credibility and reputation of his institution for securing the future of democracy in Pakistan. He shied away from bold initiatives to restore the independence and impartiality of his institution and enforce reforms that make future elections credible.
His first challenge was to put his house in order. Under the Election Commission (Officers and Servants) Rules, 1989 [Article 221], the CEC had the power to reemploy retired officials in public interest. A series of in house discussions with valuable support from retired, competent, upright and experienced officials of ECP would have led to many positive and affirmative reforms within the organisation. He could have also coopted universities into this brain storming. The journey to self-discovery never began.
In elections 2013, the ECP was bypassed by the returning officers appointed by interested elements. Much incriminating information was set aside to benefit certain individuals. All this resulted in appellate benches that moved at snail’s pace denying ends of justice. Judicial Commission Report became a file in the attic.
With the recent controversial amendment and filing of affidavits on orders of Supreme Court, the entire process of scrutiny has been left to later days. This means that very large numbers of ineligible will still get elected and the only course left to unseat them will be through lazy appellate judges and courts. This in no way will serve a future government whose ministers and members will be forever engaged in litigations. In a post-election scenario, even PTI that in the past pursued such litigations in public interests will shy away being the biggest nest of cuckoos.
ECP has failed to set up mechanisms and oversight bodies to pursue these irregularities in tribunals, at its own initiative or act as surrogate of public interests especially so when political parties have failed to do so? Eventually this entire ruckus of scrutiny and affidavits will become an albatross for the next five years around democracy imposed by a few lawyers and judges. The status quo will be preserved.
But the biggest criminal neglect of the ECP has been its failure to act as a regulator of political parties. It has neither mentored, nor supervised nor made them answerable. It has remained a bystander and drifted with the trends. Consequently, there is a genuine lack of proper leadership.
Intra party democracy is a major issue ignored till now. A certificate signed by the leader of the party is sufficient that intra party structures were enacted and that elections represented the people. These aspirations are enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan, Political Parties Act and Representation of People’s Act. There is a yawning gap between the constitutions of political parties and the immoral practice of sham intra party elections to favour the elites and chums. Principle based politics corrupted with the recent misnomer of ‘Ideological’ has no space in the process. Primaries, the first rung of democracy are bludgeoned to construe favourable results. The ECP has failed to study these constitutions and compare them with the actual practice under a flimsy pretext under Article 10 and 11 of its own laws that state : -
(1) The party leader and other office-bearers of every political party at the Federal, Provincial and local levels, wherever applicable, shall be elected periodically in accordance with party's constitution through secret ballot based on a democratic and transparent system. Yet ECP has repeatedly failed to verify democratic and transparent system. Moreover, what stops ECP from extending the fundamental rights to this process?
(2) Every member of the political party shall, subject to the provisions of the party's constitution be provided with an equal opportunity of contesting election for any party office, including that of the party leader. Surely, subject to provisions of the party’s constitution does not mean authoritarianism.
So here we go towards yet another sham election that shall retain the ‘Purana Pakistan’. Thanks to the Orwellian Sheep, the media, political leaders and most, the judiciary and ECP. Will Pakistan be able to wade through its multi crises and hybrid threats is a question that shall be answered by its 71st Independence day, a figure that send shivers.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson.