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The second and more important reason for the failure of democracy in Pakistan is that the electoral process has been largely in the hands of few classes and beyond the reach of common man. Money makes the mare of democracy go in Pakistan.

Electoral laws place a limit on election expenses. A candidate is obligated to provide details of the incurred expenses. But the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) cannot enforce these provisions. It is now a matter of crores of rupees. A political class that has amassed all kinds of resources has been clinging on to power for personal benefits, advantages and privileges and for power this class was willing to make shortsighted decisions, shameful compromises and even pledge the honour of Pakistan.

This class, originally comprised of a huge landed aristocracy who were the puppets of the Raj and its true beneficiaries in different forms got weakened as a result of land reforms. But they still represent countryside peasantry and many of them adorn assemblies and ministries even today. They treat this as their birthright to represent their ancestral constituencies.

After non-party elections of 1985 another crop of sycophants and turncoats, who became electable(s) and comprised of both the old agrarian segment(s) and new professional and trading classes that further expanded to real estate and industrial classes were now the champions of democracy.

Another class, mainly retired officials of different denomination, and their progenies, changing parties frequently for the sake of power have also found a way up the corridors of power and now adorn representative bodies and governments along with the old groups.

Two hundred million odd unfortunates, children of lesser gods, born to be ruled by this corrupt elite, are waiting for miracles through their ballot. Any reforms made by this elite that has captured power in Pakistan are only meant to protect their own interests and perpetuate their rule.

The Constitution of Pakistan contains several provisions in relation to the elections of Parliament and Provincial Assemblies and local bodies. Having been drafted on the old templates, it obligates the ECP to hold free and fair elections of President, Parliament, Provincial Assemblies and Local Government(s).

The Constitution ensures that the ECP works independently and thus all authorities throughout Pakistan are bound to help it in the discharge of its constitutional functions. ECP, which is now a permanent constitutional body, however, has to depend for human and financial resources on the Government(s) for the performance of its constitutional duties.

The Chief Election Commissioners, historically, have been retired judges or bureaucrats of advanced ages while members although having provincial representations too were retired judges, bureaucrats and advocates nominated on party lines.

In all fairness, the ECP, despite its recent assertions for independence, one is tempted to believe that will be able to hold free and fair elections, acceptable to all, is too big a task to be undertaken by it independently. By design, the ECP has been made dependent on other institutions. General elections would be the real test of its newly claimed independence as general elections are hugely different from by-elections.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its landmark judgment (the Pakistan Workers Party case-2012) had laid down guiding principles for holding free and fair elections. This judgement was not followed. Had that judgment been implemented in letter and spirit perhaps the dream of holding free, fair and uncontroversial elections would have become true. However, ruling classes, in order to protect their vested interest, have been avoiding real reforms.

If democracy is to be given a chance and it is to succeed then the mindset of the establishment needs to change. Rather being a facilitator and protector of Pakistan’s democracy it needs to follow the Constitution whereunder its role is clearly defined. The ECP has to be freed from all influences.

The Constitution enjoins upon the ECP under Article 218 to hold free and fair elections for which it does not need the ‘help’ or protection of any other institutions. Courts must also start giving deference to ECP’s decisions and should not readily interfere in its decisions under different garbs.

The ills of Pakistan’s democracy and causes of its failure are too well known. Thus, reforms in the electoral system must address those ills. As claimed, EVMs are meant to address the problem of rigging of elections.

This new system has not been put to test so far. If paper trial of EVMs is also provided along with electronic voting then misgivings about it and the possible manipulation of this new system can be mitigated. Similarly, voting by overseas Pakistanis to the existing constituencies and candidates is going to create problems and allegations of rigging will follow. It would have been better if seats were allocated to the overseas Pakistanis and by proportional representation votes were cast and seats were accordingly allocated to the parties.

In a country where the history of democracy has not been promising and election results were always disputed any new system of voting is bound to be disputed and come under criticism. But it is by no means a ground to justify any delay in elections and undermine and discredit democratic process.

One of the main reasons for the success of democracy in India is that despite wars and calamities of high magnitude elections were never delayed. When Indira Gandhi tried to subvert the process by the imposition of an emergency for as many as 21 months (from 1975 to 1977) democracy took its revenge in 1977. Despite all its ills and manipulations, democracy in Pakistan still has a chance to change the course of history and destiny of Pakistan and set the nation on the right and true path to progress.

Recent events raise hopes as political leaders are beginning to think of higher ideals. Pakistan will shine in glory the day its truly elected leaders start thinking big, for Pakistan and beyond their personal and petty interests, particularly stopping to keep elected power unto themselves, their families and few favorites.

After all, the real test of democracy is that decisions about the fate of the nation are made by those who are accountable to its people. It is a tragedy that elected leaders in Pakistan become dictators and dictators like to wear the mantle of democracy. It is time to realize that salvation of Pakistan lies in obeying the Constitution in letter and spirit and to give democracy a chance. Political leaders must refuse to use crutches.

(Concluded)

(The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and a former Additional Attorney-General for Pakistan)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

Muhammad Waqar Rana

The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and a former Additional Attorney-General for Pakistan

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