Thursday, December 6, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Dec 7, 2012

Verification of voters The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to conduct a door-to-door verification of the electoral rolls in Karachi with the aid of the army and Frontier Corps (FC). The order was passed on Wednesday in the judgement on sundry petitions moved before the SC by the PPP, PML-N, PTI, and JI asking the court to order verification of voters in the city. The MQM had objected to the request. Its chief, Altaf Hussain, had countered the proposal with the argument that if at all such verification was found necessary, it should be conducted countrywide rather than just in Karachi. The court brushed aside this contention on the grounds that it was in Karachi that the issue of accurate voters list had arisen and not for the country as a whole. Reports say 2.7 million votes of people who have been residents of Karachi for decades and voted there in previous elections have had their votes ‘transferred’ to their places of origin. The judgement says categorically that no voter should be transferred from the list in Karachi without their consent, since this violates their fundamental right to franchise. The verdict goes on to say that the objective of a transparent, free, fair election cannot, it is apprehended, be achieved without this step. The ECP has responded through Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim by saying the ECP was ready to implement the court’s order to the letter. It may be recalled that it was during General Musharraf’s regime that the MQM was advantaged by gerrymandering constituencies in Karachi and other cities of Sindh. This historical wrong has been reinforced by the recently passed Sindh People’s Local Government Act that is seen by the Sindhi nationalists and even dissenters within the PPP as electorally surrendering the cities of Sindh to the MQM in perpetuity. That is why the Sindhi nationalists’ strike against the Act found wide resonance across the board in interior Sindh. Now whether the 2.7 million voters in question have been ‘transferred’ out of Karachi at the wish of the MQM or not is not known, but suspicions have been aroused in this regard because it is only the MQM who will gain by this manoeuvre. Pakistan can no longer afford this kind of sleight of hand if the democratic system is to be consolidated and carried forward through fair, free and transparent elections. Of course there are other, even more serious problems afflicting Karachi, but these were not before the court in this case. The daily toll of lives in the metropolis has reduced the life of its citizens to a hell. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has pointed to one of the reasons why this is so. He argues that all political parties in Karachi have armed militias that are responsible for the disturbed conditions of the city. However, he says, there is no solution to this conundrum at present because most of these parties are in the Sindh governing coalition. He may as well have also included in the list of usual suspects extremists of a terrorist and sectarian hue, as well as criminal elements that have taken full advantage of the opportunity provided by the disturbances in Karachi. There is therefore a full panoply of armed groups that have reduced the city to a killing field. What effect this may have on the project of fair, free, transparent general elections in the city can only be conjectured at this point, but it certainly does not bode well. As it is the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights is seized of the matter of violations of the code of conduct laid down by the ECP in the by-polls conducted the other day in Punjab and Sindh, which involved display and aerial firing of weapons as well as violence between rival groups. Imagine if polls are conducted in Karachi, awash with weapons and killers of all shades, what might transpire. The thought is chilling. The government, the SC, as well as the ECP, while the exercise of verifying the voters door-to-door is about to be conducted, must also ponder the very real danger of a violence-wracked Karachi exploding amidst the heat of an electoral contest. The killers and their weapons have to be cleansed if Karachi is not to see a bloodbath when the general elections are held.

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