Dignity of the vote

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Zaheer Bhatti

THE crumbling system in Pakistan was jolted further as the then stand-in Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi could offer no justification when Khurshid Shah Leader of the Opposition aptly pointed out on the floor of the House that Nawaz Sharif’s demand of lending dignity to the vote had been trampled and insulted by his own Government allowing a non-elected Advisor to present the national budget ignoring Parliamentarians elected through the people’s vote. Actions speak louder than words.
With the general election hopefully in the offing, Mian Sahib would be well advised to concentrate on his Government’s performance during its just concluded tenure, abandon confrontational politics and refrain from demonizing the Armed Forces and the Judiciary, because the silent majority of Pakistan which all contenders need to attract, look to the heads of these very institutions to address their woes, inequities and deprivations because they have delivered outside their domain where the political leadership is found amiss. Khaqan Abbasi and his leadership, before demanding respect for politicians in the same manner as being accorded to judges and generals, must first deserve and then desire. Where politicians stand will be evidenced only by the forthcoming elections, the outcome of which one hopes will be in accordance with relative performance of incumbents and their respective Parties.
There is no point harping on the beaten track and accusing the Armed Forces whose three successive Chiefs over the past decade have time and again assured that they were committed to uphold Democracy and the Constitution and had no interest in ruling the country. Understandably chastened by experience of the past they must have come to realize that it takes them away from their main task of guarding Pakistan’s frontiers with the added responsibility of cleaning the internal mess created by criminal negligence of successive Governments whose inept security apparatus has over the years allowed the country to become prone to misdirected ideologies and infested with corruption and extremism.
But since accusing fingers in this charged atmosphere are being pointed to the Khakis and the Judiciary whose track record has not been spotless either, it is also the responsibility of these institutions to disprove apprehensions against them and ensure that they scrupulously stay away from taking any sides or attempt to tailor results and manipulate the people’s will. Common sense guides you to frame laws or enact legislation through the instrument of Parliament although not without hectic consultations with legal experts within and outside the House. This is what presumably must have been done while framing the currently prevailing Constitution of Pakistan unanimously adopted in 1973. But this is also a fact that the very next moment it was adopted, amendments started to be made which could be for two reasons; One, that unlike the Divine Law, since it was a man made document it was likely to have committed honest errors and omissions, and secondly to suit the moment and expediency; latter being mostly the case in Pakistan.
The latest tampering with the text of the nomination papers for the general elections is a glaring example of prospective parliamentarians seeking to cover their misdemeanors from the voter; this being their method of proving supremacy of Parliament and giving dignity to the vote, though thwarted by judicial intervention, and the Election Commission requiring them to furnish an affidavit besides the tailored nomination paper. But the ECP could have avoided appointing Prof Hassan Askari as caretaker Chief Minister Punjab despite PML(N) disagreement over the PTI proposed name for the sake of its own credibility.
Judiciary and the NAB which looked like breaking the status quo, are also seen floundering in their over-reach on the one hand humiliating the under-trial as if already condemned and allowing General Musharraf under trial for treason, to contest the polls. One indeed cannot endorse condoning loot and plunder which have cost the Nation dearly, but accountability has to be across the board and unbiased with no sacred cows because selective accountability kills credibility. NAB’s crackdown against corruption gunning for just one family while known plunderers are scot free is no different.
Amid daggers drawn and filth smeared and splattered against each other among Parliamentarians who miss no chance at setting a price for switching fragile loyalties, one has witnessed horse-trading of the worst kind demonstrated by the likes of Zardari who instead of being condemned for such odious manipulation of the people’s will, is being credited as Master of the Art. In this era of judicial activism, suo motu notice was required of the detestable practice in sensitive Balochistan and the Senate, which was sure to spill over to the forthcoming general polls.
The Senate is known to be the Upper House simply because in a country like Pakistan where the lower House namely Parliament continues to be represented by a majority of illiterates, feudals, industrialists and family scions being fashioned as electables, Senators who are supposed to be educated professionals known as technocrats, are the fittest to head relevant Ministries through whose professional prism each legislation passed by the lower House which is rubberstamped and manipulated by the rulers without substantive deliberations, can be thoroughly reviewed and amended.
One understood that representation in the Senate was supposed to be on the basis of equality among Federating Units by allocating equal number of seats to the Provinces besides seats on the basis of proportional representation of the Parties in the National Assembly at the Centre which together formed the Electoral College. But due to secret voting instead of division of the House or show of hands, the phantom of Horse Trading took center-stage and characterless manipulators managed seats even in Provinces in which they had no representation like it did in the case of PPP in Balochistan where manipulation and not principle of the exercise prevailed; a sad day for the Upper House where not only professionalism but also integrity of the Senators has been the casualty.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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