As Election Day draws near, an ever increasing amount of adrenalin is being released amidst mounting excitement in both, party activists, voters and candidates. As a Pakistani, I too am effected by this ‘fever’ for in my reckoning the 2018 polls may, through their radical departure from all previous ballots, alter the course of our history. Indicators, that a change is indeed taking place, are there for all to see. The unthinkable is happening all around us – a dreaded tribal chief returning to his constituency is challenged by his voters, who question his total lack of presence and development in the constituency, during the last legislative tenure. Similar incidents are occurring elsewhere, where people are confronting candidates’ with queries regarding their five year’s absence and apathy towards those, who voted them into Assemblies. Who could have thought that many big names (and even not so big ones) would declare their true assets in the nomination forms (thanks to the Apex Court), disclosing for the first time the indecent extent of their riches. What now remains is for the ballot to be cast in a fair, free and transparent manner. This can only become a reality if the Armed Forces are called in to keep an eye on things both inside and outside the polling stations. Not only this, they should also be given powers to arrest those, interfering with the election process.
I clearly remember the 1970 elections held under such an arrangement. It is generally agreed that it was the Army’s presence that made these elections the most transparent and fair polls in our national history. Such an arrangement is absolutely necessary if we do not want a repetition of incidents like the ones that occurred during 2013. While the watchful eye of army personnel may deter any wrongs during the polls, a great responsibility falls upon contesting parties to train and indoctrinate their polling agents in detection and reporting polling misdemeanors. It was the absence and laid back attitude of PTI polling agents during the last Elections that cost them a large number of important seats.
I predicted in 2013 that facing a party like PML N required uncanny wisdom and tactical acumen. I added that Nawaz Sharif’s party consisted of wily political stalwarts, hell bent on winning their seats through employment of every weapon in their arsenal. Much of this would be discreetly accomplished by ‘pre poll rigging’ such as delineation of constituencies, preparation of voter lists that may include overseas Pakistanis or those long since dead. I mentioned that the polling staff could be bought or coerced. I was proved right in many cases.
My niece went to the ladies polling station in DHA Lahore, to discover that her vote had been cast in absentia. It was only her violent protest that forced the staff to sheepishly rectify their ‘error’. She later told me that there were numerous cases similar to her own, but acceptance and silence resulted in misuse of their ballot. That is why perhaps, the slogan “Vote ko izzat do” sounds rather hollow. If we, the people harbor a genuine desire for the electoral process to be fair, now is the chance to ensure that it should be so. Every voter, who notices even the most insignificant of malpractice must boldly and incessantly protest on the spot, until the matter is satisfactorily rectified. Only then will our vote be given the respect it deserves. On the 25th day of July, when you and your family proceeds to fulfill your constitutional obligation to elect your future, I beg you:
Do not remain silent on noticing rigging or malpractice by any individual during the voting process. Raise the roof, if you have to.
Report even the tiniest suspicion of rigging to the military on duty. Don’t be afraid if your report turns out be a false alarm. The very act of reporting will act as deterrence.
If nothing works, call up any private media channel and report what is happening. Stay at the spot until media arrives.
Let us all pledge to stand up and show courage for once. Let us make Elections 2018 a matter of national pride - for the sake of our future generations.
The writer is a freelance columnist.