Ever since Asif Zardari has declared that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will be the next Prime Minister (PM), panic bells have started to ring. PML-N was the first to react by saying, “People will decide”. This is a new one from a party that is known for stealing elections and already stands convicted by the Supreme Court in the famous Asghar Khan case. A party that grew in the cradle of the establishment knows very well how the mandate of the people is manipulated through farce ballots. That is why Zardari’s statement is being taken seriously. Either the party is afraid of a reverse swing or indeed the people of Pakistan will decide this time around, there has been a change of heart.

In its 70 years of existence, the people’s will prevailed only once in 1970. Since then there have been ten farce electoral exercises. The latest was in 2013 against which Kaptaan led a ‘dharna’ in the capital. Pakistan has a history of long marches each one of them produced results. Though Kaptaan’s protest could have been more effective yet it exposed the tainted mandate of the ruling party. Zardari came to the rescue of Mian Sahib and his government was saved. Qadri left abruptly leaving Kaptaan alone to face the challenge. PTI returned empty handed. Even electoral reforms were not agreed to in the absence of which the will of the people cannot prevail.

The Nasir-ul-Mulk Commission deliberated on the conduct of the 2013 elections and pointed out serious irregularities which remain un-corrected. Who is responsible for the implementation of these findings? Why is there no suo-moto action from the supreme court? It seems no one is interested in a free and fair election as it does not suit them.

The establishment is primarily responsible for the status-quo and stagnation in the country. It has tried every known trick to suppress the will of the people. Initially the colonial left overs of khakis, Qazis and Baboos got together to derail freedom. Then they created their own brand of “Siasis” who were expected to be subservient to them. PML-N was a product of this experiment. Mian Sahib deserves some credit when he decided to take on his mentor Baboo Ghulam Ishaq khan and refused to take dictation any more. Being in power long enough PML-N has succeeded in creating its own ‘Siasi status-quo’ which means sharing of loot with other greedy political beasts. By signing the ‘Charter of Democracy’ with the People’s Party this clandestine approach has been formalized and strengthened.

In the existing scenario how can the people decide? Manipulation starts right from the voters lists kept by NADRA. Now that the system is computerised multiple cards are difficult and thumb verification is possible so the focus is on moving the voters around making it difficult for them to cast their vote. The Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan (ECP) and its members are appointed by the COD parties. Civil administration in Punjab and Sindh acts like personal serfs of these two parties. The average term of office of an SHO in the Punjab is around four months and that of Inspector General (IG) eight to twelve. Currently there is a big tussle to remove the IG in Sindh as he follows the rules. So many IGs have been appointed and then removed in Punjab that it is difficult to keep track. After a long time the current head of Police has retired after super annuation and has been retained as an adviser for his loyalty.

The electoral exercise in 2013 has been termed as election of the Returning Officers (RO) by Asif Zardari and rightly so. I had the chance of meeting the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister (CM) Punjab after Election Day in 2013. I asked him what happened. His reply was an eye opener. According to him the RO’s stuffed the ballot boxes during the one hour extension that was given for no obvious reason.

People’s Party won big in West Pakistan in the only free and fair election in 1970. Since then, despite manipulated ballots, it has prevailed four times for a total of five victors, the maximum by any other party. It seems the party has found another winning approach or has blunted the PML-N’s manipulative mechanism designed for next electoral contest.

For the will of the people to prevail either they have to come on the streets or the Khakis and Qazis have to be fully on board. Not much can be expected from the Baboos as they have been subservient for far too long. On Election Day the supporting administrative staff should be brought from other provinces. No tainted hand should be allowed to touch the ballot boxes.

Electoral reforms are in everyone’s interests. Reliance on reverse swings have been disastrous. There has been a constant decline in all sectors since 1985 party less elections in which political rogues were elected against the will of the people. In the recent Panama Case verdict the political rogues have been exposed. Another free and fair ballot is the best way forward. People will decide what is good for them and for the country. The establishment and its political cronies should not be allowed to play with the future of the motherland. With their tainted past and vested interests not much can be expected from the current political leadership. It is time for the people to decide otherwise it will be more of the same roguery. Farce elections and manipulated ballots will get us nowhere.