Failure is no longer an option



Zaheer Bhatti

WHETHER striving to protect parliamentary democracy, rule of law, justice and equality, yearning for change, or seeking to maintain status quo, failure of the system to deliver is not an option any longer for Pakistan, much less for the incumbent leadership whose dream plans are being soured with contributions being made by virtually all major national institutions principally the ECP, but including the parliamentarians themselves, the kite-flying media often feeding on unverified or manufactured news, the Judiciary in not speedily intervening to ensure transparency in the outcome of the polls, and the Armed Forces not killing the insinuation of remote controlling the electoral process forthwith, if not true.
It is patent lack of foresight that the date for general election was chosen with complete disregard to the Independence Day of Pakistan following so closely that the future Prime Minister of the country is most likely to be deprived of heralding the new leadership at its flag-hoisting ceremony. Had it been ensured, imagine the mileage Pakistan would have got worldwide from this unfolding exposure of a man already receiving unprecedented accolades from leaders of the world. If some thought had gone into the exercise, the Election Commission of Pakistan, which has been the main culprit, ought to have, in the first place, called for an election a week earlier besides accepting its mistakes and faux pas if not incompetence, and addressed post-poll complaints over all questioned constituencies permissible under the law for a complete recount rather than fending stubbornly, and opening up cases only partially and selectively
With recourse to Courts of Law open to the complainants, it was also the job of the Judiciary to act swiftly in ordering time-bound transparent settlement of the ultimate result by the ECP rather than engage in overturning its lower court orders and add to the stalemate. As to the alleged malfunctioning of the automated Results Transmission System (RTS) which cost the cash-starved nation dearly, it has rendered the whole exercise highly questionable with those in charge claiming that it was functioning perfectly. This only goes to suggest that someone ordered to discontinue its usage mid-stream. There has notably been no categorical denial or rejection from concerned quarters except that the Army Chief had reportedly queried at a pre-poll briefing as to what if the RTS automation did not function at the nick of time. ‘No way,’ was the categorical assurance then held out. Conversely, no one has as of today dilated upon what the Armed Forces would stand to gain from manipulating an exercise, the outcome of which was to be strengthening of democracy; an assurance which the Army Chief has held out time and again.
Allegations over manipulation of poll results gained currency with certain measures adopted by the ECP into the run of the electoral exercise. While mobile phones and cameras may have been disallowed in the polling rooms for various genuine reasons, polling agents of different contestants were thus prevented from recording evidence in support of their allegations that they were expelled from the polling rooms but not allowed to leave the Polling Station premises; and that some of them were given results on plain paper and not on Form-45 signed by the Returning Officer, of which he should have evidence on a receipt book bearing signatures of all polling agents. If non-issuance of Form-45 is not manipulation as contended by the ECP, what else is it?
This is besides the fact that stamped ballot papers; some half burnt were spotted in schools and filth dumps while bags of others were found missing, some of which like in PK-4 Swat were later reported recovered. With the Senate Standing Committee on Interior having sought explanation from ECP and ordering its own investigation over the bungling, to what avail will the re-count be now if you were recounting bags of polled votes including those allegedly stuffed in the absence of polling agents; authentication of their genuineness being possible only through NADRA verification of thumb impressions not just on the RO’s retained counterfoil but also if registered on the reverse of ballot papers polled by the voter.
As it stands at present, it is a matter of shame that the Sword of Damocles’ was kept hanging over the incumbent Prime Minister and scores of others with their notification made conditional to ECP and Court verdict, which ought to have been cleared in a matter of a few days by the Election Tribunal. Sadly, a Supreme Court Bench reversing the recount ordered by High Court in NA-131 narrowly won by Imran against Saad Rafique on the grounds that the HC could not interfere in a matter relating to the ECP contradicts the Chief Justice’s flawed assertion that it was a political matter which ought to be resolved politically. With the prospective Treasury and the Opposition declaring to support all moves and bills on the floor of the House aimed at people’s welfare and in the interest of the State, one was beginning to conjure up good tidings regardless of the electoral impasse. But open compromises by the majority party in order to acquire the mandatory count to form Government, and the Opposition together with some media outlets starting to gun for the incumbent rulers even before their assumption of office, particularly Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman exposing himself in declaring not to celebrate the Independence Day in protest, deserves strongest of condemnation.
Imran Khan’s credibility henceforth nevertheless will be in treating his word as one of honour, and in diffusing the post-election stand-off soonest possible. He must beware not to repeat the Bhutto mistake of delaying the partial re-poll in 1977 and paying the price. The combined opposition having released its trailer of protests in front of the ECP, not just Imran Khan but the entire spectrum of stakeholders in the national polity needs to recognize that confrontation to the detriment of State interests, and failure of the system is no longer an option for Pakistan.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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