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EDITORIAL: As long as Imran Khan was prime minister his political opponents would invariably describe him as “selected prime minister”. He had earned this unpleasant epithet following his party’s unexpected victory in the 2018 general elections.

And to it there were some tangible and plausible believable polemics as well, the most cogent being that the military leadership had set the stage for his electoral success. Unlike the 2013 general elections, three times more troops were deployed outside ‘sensitive’ or ‘more sensitive’ polling stations. And a week before the polling day, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) granted broad judicial powers to the troops at the polling stations.

Expectedly, the ECP’s decision caused concern among political parties and human rights groups. The anti-Imran Khan parties, not in so many words but quite unmistakably, described the large-scale deployment of troops at polling stations as an attempt aimed at authorising the powerful institution to micromanage the electoral exercise. And as results from about twoscore constituencies took more than 24 hours, there was the loud cry that all of it was part of the plan.

There were not very many takers of the ECP claim that the delay in transmission of results was not the result of a “wicked conspiracy” as it was caused due to a technical glitch. Was this glitch a failure on the part of Nadra that was receiving and conveying to ECP results from the polling stations or planned by the powers that be? Unfortunately, however, this question still has no clear answer. But the lesson the military high command has learnt is: let the electoral exercise be the ECP’s province. So, now as ECP asked the army authorities to guard polling stations in the upcoming elections of local bodies and national and provincial assemblies’ by-elections the army chief conveyed to the Chief Election Commissioner that “it’s now a policy of the armed forces that they want to stay away from the polling stations,” adding that it would like to be positioned only as the third-tier of security ring.

Did the military high command believe that re-election of Nawaz Sharif was a security risk and Imran Khan was the best bet for the country? This question still attracts opposing arguments. But what should not be overlooked is the yarn of undying controversies about the fairness and impartiality of elections. Electoral failure is an orphan. Accepted, some elections are stolen; and it happens wherever democratic systems function. But this conundrum is not as prevalent as this made out by those who lose elections.

To this Pakistan’s electoral landscape is no exception, given the prompt but veiled warning, almost coincidental to reports that army would stay away from polling stations, sounded by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) deputy chief Shah Mahmood Qureshi. “If the Election Commission (of Pakistan) loses its credibility in the coming by-elections, the next general election will stand compromised in advance,” he warned. Although without free elections, there is neither the possibility for citizens to express their will nor the opportunity to change their leaders, absolutely fair, free and impartial elections are nearly impossible in democracies and autocracies alike.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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