Will the peoples mandate ever prevail or will rigging rob it? As member of the first generation of Pakistan, and raised on the Mall Road, we have seen it all. Although my son Ali is not convinced of our struggle but we were thrown at the deep end by the founding fathers of the country. My journey of activism started very early. In October 1958 at the age of five years I stood with my father near the Kim’s Gun to receive the long march of Qayyem Khan. While we waited he never made it to Lahore. Martial Law was clamped and Khan sahib was arrested at the Ravi Bridge and lodged in the dungeons of Lahore Fort. Muslim League has never been a party of resistance, as its leader Qayyum sahib decided to retire from politics and went back to practice law in Peshawar. In 1999, Mian Nawaz Sharif adopted the same course as Prime Minister and President of his party by agreeing to go in to exile to Saudi Arabia for a period of ten years.

Ayub Khan introduced the process of manipulated elections, which he called Basic Democracy. He emerged as a Ghanta Ghar (Faisalabad style) around which the shameful 1962 constitution was built. The founding fathers, most of whom were elected in 1946 to the legislative assembly under the British Raj were sent home under Elected Bodies Disqualification Ordinance (EBDO). There were political stalwarts like Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, Khawaja Nazimuddin, Abdur Rab Nishtar, Sattar Pirzada, Qazi Isa Wali Khan, Ajmal Khattak to name a few product of this rigged democracy were individuals like Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, Yasin Wattoo, Anwar Bhinder, Ayub Khuro, Fazal-ud-Qadir Chaudhry etc. who were then responsible for contaminating the entire democratic order in the country. Their siblings then continued with the same traditions.

Progressive writers were the first to protest against this election of democracy. My uncle Dr. Salim Wahid Salim a brilliant writer and poet was a part of this uprising. In 1959 he went on a hunger strike outside the Civil Secretariat, his demands were: return of the army to the barracks, investigation into the murder of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and an end to the surveillance of progressives. After fourteen days his vital signs were diminishing at that point my father had to step in to save his life, but for the rest of his sojourn he was plagued with the phobia of intelligence monitoring. In his later years no one believed what he had gone through only his old friends were sympatric.

Till today the demands of the nation are the same.

Kaptaan has been agitating against rigging since May 2013. In fact the protest was spontaneous with a youth dharna at the Defence Chowk while he was hospitalized. Some people mostly belonging to PML-N have now started calling him ‘Dhandli Khan’, they believe it has become a phobia in this case. It is indeed strange that no one has ever claimed that the ten elections between 1977 and 2013 were free and fair yet the call for credible electoral exercise has fallen on deaf ears. Even the docile Judicial Commission pointed out serious irregularities and so did the election tribunals yet no one has been punished. Only the beneficiaries of rigging had to go through another tainted exercise to get re-elected from NA-122 and will and on the speakers seat again.

It is indeed painful for those of us who have played a long innings for democracy and rule of law to see the repeated hijacking of people’s mandate. When we the members of the first generation forced the first free and fair elections in 1970 after a long struggle and pitched battles we thought that our job was done. The 1973 constitution consolidated the democratic order. Election Commission of Pakistan was mandated to hold free and fair elections but the rigging by a few electables in the 1977 ballot derailed democracy. It was hoped that the same mistake would not be repeated in 2013 but it was PPP in 1977 and PML(N) in 2013 were in a winning position yet they indulged in rigging.

Unfortunately rigging has become a way of life for most political parties. There is pre-poll rigging in which voters lists are manipulated, targeted development projects are launched, postings and transfers take place. Then during the balloting process unnecessary delays are created, in case of low turnout bogus votes are cast by the election machinery which is seldom neutral. Then comes the counting which comes under post poll rigging. Trained polling agents can contain some of the election day irregularities but it the administrative set up is influenced the peoples mandate is invariably compromised. Like a circus is controlled by a Ring Master, elections are manipulated by Rigging Masters.

No one that matters (politicians, Qazis, Baboos, Khakis) seems interested in determining and then respecting the people’s mandate. Credit goes to some of Election Tribunal judges who ruled for reelections in some constituencies (NA 154, NA-122, NA-125). In the fear of more such decisions the work of the tribunals has been stopped. The controversial members of ECP have refused to resign. The supreme Judicial Council (SJC) is looking for proofs which only the agencies have. The election cell within ISI was blamed for manipulating the 1977 election and helping Zia-ul-Haq to keep away from the electoral exercise. The data is there to be used which should have been provided to both the Judicial Commission and the Council.

Recent events have show that Kaptaan is not winning the crusade for a free and fair ballot. In fact the beneficiaries of election irregularities (as it is called) are on the winning side. The electoral reforms committee of the parliament has not delivered either. As a seasoned activist I sense a serious storm brewing quite like the one in 1970 which resulted in the only credible electoral exercise which was later mismanaged.

The Khakis are credited for the only honest ballot in the country. With ten rigged elections in a row ECP is fast becoming obsolete. Perhaps the nation will have to call in the men in uniform to hold the second free and fair election in 2016 and then return to the barracks. People’s mandate can no longer be manipulated by rigged elections otherwise the battle ground will move from the ballot to the bazaars where democracy was born with all its interactions and noises. It is time to raise our voices and be heard.