PROSPECTIVE Prime Minister’s Victory speech was reassuring and refreshing. Hopefully, he won’t get bogged down in cosmetics and would go ahead with substantive reforms. Likewise, the tone of All Parties Conference indicated that the losers elements are more likely to settle down with fate accompli after making face saving noises. With elections 2018, Pakistan has transitioned from a two to three party political system as for as Federal government making is concerned. Pattern of split mandate—federal government not forming its own party government in all provinces—has sustained itself. Religious Right as well as remnants of the Left politics stand routed. Karachi is liberated from a four decades long pervasive and perpetual fear. And the “Jeep” mystery stands buried, deep down, under the weight of people’s mandate. Elections have enhanced the national stature at home and abroad.
A distinctive feature of voting this time was unpredictability. The surveys and impressions were generally subjective, rather than reflective of likely voter behaviour. Three-way party contest has its own complexities and, besides, there were so many spoilers. Most analysts played safe by suggesting a razor sharp contest by placing the three main contenders at around 70 national assembly seats, and drawing a scary confrontational scenario with competing King Makers; lucky that it did not happen so. Bloodiest elections of Pakistan’s History ended with usual political undertones. On the Election Day also, 31 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Quetta.
It was a stark reminder of the security challenges facing the new government. With Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf poised to form the new governments at the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all other major parties across the country have cried foul over attempts to rig the elections and blamed the Election Commission of Pakistan(ECP) for failing to conduct transparent polls. As usual the Election Commission was quick, to reject the allegations; it blamed National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) for delay in result announcement saying that the NADRA communication device did not function well. NADRA rejected the EC claim—a familiar post election blame shifting environment in Pakistan.
Polling was conducted peacefully in most parts of the country, with no major incident of rigging reported during the day. However, while the vote count was still under way, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — the main contender to the PTI — rejected the election results and said: “Rigging has been committed in the elections. The puppet mandate [to PTI] is not acceptable. We will only accept the people’s mandate. It is unfortunate that the people came out of their homes to cast the votes in such a harsh weather but their mandate was stolen,” he said. He announced that his party would adopt all available political and legal options, as “we cannot leave that matter like this” He hunted at a joint strategy by taking on-board other complainant parties. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) also raised almost similar complaints of foul play.
Most parties have claimed that their polling agents were forced out from polling stations without being provided with Form 45 (the statement of vote count) by presiding officers. Speaking on the occasion, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto tweeted: “It’s now past midnight & I haven’t received official results from any constituency I am contesting myself. My candidates [are] complaining polling agents have been thrown out of polling stations across the country. Inexcusable & outrageous.” The silver lining was that, in a historic first, women in some conservative parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab came out to cast their votes as candidates sought to fulfil the legal requirement of minimum 10 per cent women’s turnout to validate their result. Women in tribal areas and other conservative areas had been barred from voting in the past general elections, as the practice of keeping women from voting is a norm under verbal and written agreements between candidates and family elders in such areas. For the first time in the country’s electoral history, the ECP had annulled the result of Dir Lower (PK-95) by-polls in 2015 after finding that none of the registered women voters had cast votes. This deterrence has worked. In Balochistan, too, women voted in numbers.
The real Hero of 2018 Election was the electorate. In a bitterly polarised environment and biased predictions, the Voter could not be restrained even by harsh weather. Voter was, by and large, disciplined and composed, indicating that electorate duly value their right to vote. This commitment of the people will add resilience to our democratic process. Perception has it that democracy in Pakistan is continuation of interplay between the filthy rich, moderated by institutions, with people’s well-being a low priority item on their agenda.
It is indeed a dangerous assertion that has undermined Pakistan’s democracy, within and its image projection outside the country. Reality is that a typical Pakistani commoner has consistently and courageously demonstrated a commitment to the electoral process. There is a strong and visible change in the behaviour of Pakistani people where they have started questioning the time tested political leaders for their non-delivery over their promises. This has led to defeat of previously tested political leaders and major political parties. Need of the hour is that the victorious parties and individuals must approach politics with a more democratic and conciliatory spirit. For national stability, politics cannot be allowed to return to an era of open warfare. Hopefully, all political parties and political individuals will soon put behind post electoral bickering and reconcile to the realities that be.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.