Guard against pre-poll rigging

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Muhammad Usman
IN political history of Pakistan, honest ballot remains a conspicuous rarity. With each election, art and practice of unfair means acquired more novelty and versatility. In 2013 elections, it was 18th constitutional amendment which lent a cutting edge to electoral arsenal of its architects who also happened to be the main contestants notably, in pre poll rigging facet. The constitution of a new Election Commission and caretaker governments at federal and provincial levels were latest inventions to tilt rules of game to their mutual convenience by leader of the house and opposition. Sadly, act was perpetrated under legalized rubric of strengthening and institutionalizing democracy in country by our ruling elite, hand in gloves with each other in broad day light. It was a master stroke. In view of forthcoming General Elections 2018, their ingenuity seems extra active subtly and coarsely to hoodwink will of people once again. Given conditions, the country could ill afford their electoral mischief once more because proverbial back of camel is already overloaded to limit. Even a little more could land the country in a situation of last straw.
Mostly Pakistan has seen all types of electoral rigging in a series; pre poll rigging, polling day rigging and post elections rigging. Only exception was when one was not needed. Due to space reasons and of immediate and primary concern, focus under this discourse would remain largely on pre poll rigging. The pre poll rigging is a deliberate attempt to tilt level playing field discriminately against or for. The methods/tricks are numerous and enormous. These range from independence of election commission, neutrality of caretakers, impartiality of returning officers and elections administrative staff, violations of code of conduct and media freedom to lure in masses on fake grounds, denial of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, manipulations in voting lists, late/last minute changes in polling schemes, doling out of politically motivated development funds, politicization of civil administration and other related state institutions, use of public resources/authority to woo or coerce poor and weak sections of the society.
Besides, there are some intangible which tends to remain obscured but are of telling impact on pliable minds which unfortunately constitute major chunk of our traditional voting spree on Election Day. Notable one is palpable myths/perceptions, not merely built around fiction but also unfortunate facts. There is an age old perception that our ruling elite is unbeatable in elections. Nothing could change because scales are heavily tilted on their side. They have strong links with powers that be at home or abroad. They have unfailing ingress in state machinery. The law is also on their side as often they go scot free at altar of expediency and strength of their influence and worldly glitters. They could force an election result but still remain at large from reach of law. They are adept at improvisation and freak. Such talks/stories tend to project ruling elite a formidable reality and sure winners. It is a human psyche that largely people tend to go alongside the winners as their vote against them would cause nothing new. It is truer in case of marooned people at the hands of ruling elite who also vote for them for want of their daily necessities. Inevitably, they prefer to settle for piffling return than a rightful share. The ruling elite spares no effort to keep such mindset instilled because it gives them an opening advantage in an election tussle.
Albeit with disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, flight of ruling elite is in serious danger of fatal crash landing however, they appear determined not to leave any stone unturned to reverse the tide. They would employ all tricks in book to shore up ensuing cracks; from submission to defiance and foul play. Probably on finding no encouragement and way out from backdoors, they are playing the card of defiance. The relentless diatribe of Nawaz Sharif against Judiciary is a move in this direction. It may have multiple motives but one of its main underlying purpose looks to be aimed at keeping his support intact among the masses through more ways than one; he is still a force to be reckoned with, he still holds reins of his party, PM and CM Punjab dutifully report to him, except PTI, all major political parties and media take him seriously and he would revert verdicts of courts by massive mandate of people. Though this all is foul play yet it is not completely falling off the mark. Common people listen to him particularly, his voters see him making a comeback. Such perception is undue and needs to be undone.
Pakistan is at defining moment. Nation has come a long way after having suffered immensely for democracy in the country. There was no formula of positive results or controlled democracy. It was all free hand to political class which left no quarter to plunder the masses on name of populism. There is now no time for digressions or retrogression when seen in backdrop of internal and external dangers looming large. It is time for wholesale course correction to plug possibilities of rigging in election 2018 to pave the way for level playing field. Most important is to explode myth of their invincibility in elections by making them accountable to law. The Supreme Court may have to take the lead. Nation stands back to back behind it.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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