Friday, August 28, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 29, 2015

Back to the electorate Amidst the triumphalism of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) after the three election tribunal verdicts unseated the federal Minister for Railways, the Speaker of the National Assembly and another MNA, the ruling PML-N was in somewhat of a quandary. Although it hit back at the PTI claim that ‘rigging’ had been proved in these three constituencies by pointing out that the tribunals only identified irregularities and lapses in the election process as grounds for ordering re-polling and did not uphold the PTI’s accusations, the PML-N was left scratching its head on the way forward. The option that the Minister of Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique had chosen, i.e. getting a stay order from the Supreme Court (SC) against the election tribunal’s verdict and continuing in office under its umbrella, could obviously help neither the unseated Speaker Ayaz Sadiq (for political/constitutional/moral reasons) nor MNA Siddique Baloch whose degree was found to be fake. After consultations amongst the top leadership of the PML-N, they have chosen what is perhaps the best path. That path is a return to the electorate in the by-elections in at least NA-122 and NA-154, while the case of NA-125 would be discussed after Khwaja Saad Rafique returns from abroad. The party would perhaps like a uniform approach towards contesting the by-elections in all three constituencies. There are rumours however that Khwaja Saad Rafique may not be very happy with having to fight a by-election despite the SC’s stay order. In NA-122, the PML-N’s strong candidate Ayaz Sadiq will run again, and given the conundrum that his rival in 2013, PTI chief Imran Khan may not want to give up his Rawalpindi NA seat for the risky contest in NA-122, this may further improve Ayaz Sadiq’s chances. Depending on how quickly the by-poll in NA-122 is conducted, the vacant Speaker’s slot can be kept open till the NA’s next session. Even if a Speaker is elected in his place to fulfil the constitutional requirements of the house, it cannot be ruled out that Ayaz Sadiq may return to the seat kept warm for him by a ‘temporary’ Speaker. As to NA-154, Siddique Baloch being beset with disqualification problems because of his fake degree, the PML-N will have to plan to field a strong candidate against Jahangir Tareen. If the PML-N is able to mobilise the party machine and the advantages of incumbency to win all three seats, that would constitute a big blow to the already deflated, temporarily restored prospects of the PTI. The latter is meeting today (Saturday) to chalk out its strategy in the light of the latest developments. In any democracy worth the name, the people are sovereign, who elect their representatives to parliament to serve them. Theoretically that is the way it is supposed to be. Of course, nothing in life is perfect, and democracies exhibit a wide array of standards that either approach or stray away from the ideal. First and foremost though, and given Pakistan’s chequered history of elections, the irreducible minimum requirement is that the electoral process, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. Only than can a credible parliamentary democracy be erected on firm foundations. Pakistan’s elections have almost always (the 1970 elections being an exception that led to other tragedies) been dogged by controversy and charges of rigging. In most cases there was weight to the accusations of the losing side. Because of the ups and downs and discontinuity attending the history of democracy in Pakistan, serious reform of the anomalies, shortcomings and lapses of the electoral process has gone abegging. Whether one agrees with Imran Khan and the PTI’s approach to politics generally and democracy in particular or not, the party can take some credit for focusing attention on the shortcomings of the election system, even if its allegations of rigging did not pass muster on the touchstone of evidence and proof. For the moment, the balance of convenience lies with continuing with the present Election Commission of Pakistan and venturing onto the fraught terrain of the electoral process with heightened focus on the irregularities and lapses pointed out by the election tribunals and the Judicial Commission. However, we cannot remain forever sanguine about these flaws. The electoral reform process must sooner rather than later be prioritised to put to rest the coloured history of elections and their almost inevitable denouement of charges of hanky panky and the crises these engender.

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