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Human trafficking is a heinous crime. This is buying and selling of humans for illicit purposes of slavery or prostitution, etc. The United Nations has classified it as serious violation of human rights that abuse the human body’s dignity and freedom. Going by this definition what happens in the Senate elections, and in a different manner in the general elections, is also a heinous crime. In the Senate elections it is known as “horse trading”. That is buying and selling of Members of Provincial Assemblies as is the case in Pakistan. These are auctions of votes to buy prestigious seats in the upper house of the parliament. These seats are up for grabs to the highest bidder. This bidding is secret, dirty, underhand, and downright grotesque.

Horse trading is a known and hitherto accepted fact. Political parties have loved playing the pure bred hypocrite. Before and after the senate elections there is a hue and cry on it but during the elections it is just a cry wolf. Everybody condemns it. Everybody says it should be banned. Everybody says it is the bane of corruption. Everybody labels it as rigging. Yet “nearly” every political party indulges in it. The real emergence of this human auction came into limelight in the Changa Manga deal. In the 1990s, the Sharif family allegedly set the trend to host and fete opposition parliamentarians to buy their votes in important elections, especially the Senate elections. Beautiful resorts were chosen and the prospective sellers of votes were traded to finalize the deals. Changa Manga was a famous hill resort at that time. Other tourist attractions Murree and Swat chosen by the PPP to “buy” their votes. This happened consistently and became an unwritten norm.

Senate elections have traditionally been the big market vote auction. The Senate is not subject to dissolution but the term of its members is six years. The seats of Senate are prized chairs of power and status. Certain seats, especially the technocrat seats, are normally given to businesspeople associated with the party. This seat is meant for professionals of high esteem who will add value to the intellectual debate and legislation of the upper house. Sadly, very rarely does one see this caliber in the Senate. It is “sold” at outrageous amounts. The present Senate election has become even more important as:

1 Video Horror- Seeing is believing. Having heard for decades of the auction of seats the visuals of it actually happening are shocking. The “so-called” parliamentarians who take oath for integrity, seen being sold for money is disgusting. The very sight of men and women counting the stacks and stocking their bags is horrific. The whole operation being carried out in a normal matter of fact manner is chilling. The buyer sitting smoking with money stacked in front of him is demeaning and dehumanizing. For the first time this visual in decades is displaying the height of the lowness of politicians. But what is even more horrifying is that instead of taking this as a moral lesson the opposition is still firm on its stand of no change in mode of ballot. What is even more disappointing is that all they are more upset about is the timing of the video than the immorality of it. That is why these elections have become a trial of not just show of hands but show of heart and show of souls.

2 Candidate Selection- Senate candidates traditionally have been chosen on representation necessity and financial sponsorship. That has contributed to an upper house with low intellect. This election will be important as it will pitch the moneyed people against the ideological lot. The resultant level of the upper house will be affected by the level of people who make it in the elections.

3 Institutional Strength- Aside from parties, it is also the test of the relevant institutions. The government has filed a case for guidance on how to introduce show of

hands in the elections. The Election Commission has refused to accommodate it. The court is asking how the ECP can make this transparent with existing laws. Then there is the question of blatant admission by some ex MPAs of accepting money aside from the video evidence. Are NAB, FIA waiting for instructions from the government to take action against these admitted, confessed corruption evidences?

The real crisis is the crisis of moral numbness. How can those very parties who have signed, sworn and cried about horse trading dismiss it on the basis of it being too late or too early? How can people who are so visible in the video taking money just roam around saying “yes we took it but from some other person”? How can parties still be claiming proudly that they will get more votes than their numbers allow? How can law enforcement and constitutional institutions sit as observers looking elsewhere till they are commanded into action? And how can those who are buying these votes be termed by media and analysts as “politically intelligent people with expertise and acumen”?

This insensitivity is frightening. This indifference is horrifying. This apathy is tragedy. Buying, auctioning of human bodies is banned and is a crime. Buying and selling of souls, of conscience, is trafficking which is a bigger crime. In human trafficking people are prosecuted and are under criminal vigilance, in electoral trafficking they stay, they flourish and they destroy the moral and ethical fabric of the society. They become role models. That is why electoral trafficking must be declared a crime and banned. If ever there was a cry of SOS (Save Our Souls) it is here and now.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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