The Making of a Criminal State

A democracy with a modicum of control is far better than a corrupted democracy protecting criminals. What can one expect from criminals? Under most circumstances, one does not advise killing them but certainly, they cannot be allowed to subvert democracy at the peril of the State, argues Ikram Sehgal.

Posted on 03/13/21
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
(Photo courtesy Senate of Pakistan)
Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM’s) Yusuf Raza Gilani bagged 169 votes against Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh’s 164in the Senate Elections held on March 3, 2021 with one vote not being cast. At least 7 votes were rejected being wrongly marked, a clear indication that some ruling party lawmakers changed their loyalty. PTI’s Fauzia Arshad who contested on the woman seat for Islamabad secured 174 votes, though to win she secured 6 less votes than the reciprocal strength of the party and allies i.e. 180. This winning margin is sufficient evidence to indicate there was clear horse-trading on the men’s seats. That money changed hands is shown in the damning video showing Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani giving pointers to someone on how to waste a Senate vote is a case in point. Corruption did take place and if anyone thinks otherwise, he or she qualifies as a moron. PDM quickly demanded that Prime Minister Imran Khan resign.

Imran Khan reacted with courage, calling a special session of the National Assembly (NA) on March 6 to seek a vote of confidence. Imran Khan duly secured the trust vote by getting 178 votes, six more votes than what he needed and 2 more than what he got in his election as PM, thereby ending the political uncertainty in the country. Since this was on “open” vote those who had taken money to sell their “Zameer” (conscience) showed that besides being greedy they were also cowards. Not surprisingly the opposition had boycotted the Assembly proceedings. The PDM should have attended the session and recorded its protest. However, doing the right thing is certainly not their forte. Incidentally, Nawaz Sharif had gone through this ‘voluntary’ vote of confidence process after his reinstatement by the Supreme Court (SC) in 1993.

To quote my article “Blindly following the Constitution,” of Nov 13, 2014, “Indirect elections for our ‘democratic’ version of the British House of Lords, is a shameful disgrace.  The ‘auction’ for Senate seats is an insult to the name of democracy. The Majority vote and proportional representation are the basic requisites of any democracy and secret ballot based on Article 59 (2) of the Constitution. Proportional representation means that the number of seats of political parties in the Senate should be according to the number of their seats in the Provincial Assemblies. Unfortunately, that secrecy of the ballot has in the past been misused by “horse-trading” with bags of money changing hands to buy votes. Some very rich and influential individuals who otherwise would never have been elected in an exercise of adult franchise entered the Senate because of their money and/or power. Our Upper House does not have the reputation should because of blatant “horse-trading” for votes by a number of individuals of bad repute” unquote.  Senate elections are a standing reminder of democracy being hypocrisy. The Senate must be credible in any federal Republic like Pakistan, all posts being truly representative of the people.

The govt failed, unfortunately, to get from the SC an open voting process to prevent vote purchasing and to maintain the proportionality of parties in the National Assembly in the Senate as well. Both these demands – proportionality and secret vote – are equally part of the Constitution, both need to be observed. With hindsight, both demands together don’t make sense because any vote-buying during the secret voting process by one party will and has destroyed the second condition. Since 1973 this illogical combination of conditions has resulted in loads of money and favors changing hands and consequently, proportionality was abused and democracy undermined. Political parties are a major part of the democratic political system and voting along party lines on fundamental issues is as much democratic as sticking to the party from which one has been elected is. While floor-crossing has been eradicated, somehow vote-buying is regarded by many as a ‘fundamental right’, incidentally and most shockingly so does the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), at least by public perception.

The role of the ECP has been questionable, they miserably failed to implement the recommendations given by the 5-member larger bench of the Supreme Court (SC) headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad relating to the Senate elections. While it directed that polls would be held through secret ballot according to Article 226 of the Constitution, it also said, “It is the duty of the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”.  The apex court directed the ECP to take all available measures, “including utilizing technologies to fulfill the solemn constitutional duty to ensure that the election is ‘conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.” The SC also instructed the ECP to work on matters including proportional representation and take measures against corruption in elections. The SC, in essence, had given the ECP an excellent opportunity to conduct elections through the secret ballot but have the ballot identifiable. Had this been done, those who had taken the money and traded their loyalties would have been identified. By not adhering to any of the SC’s directions, the ECP protected those criminals through the secret ballot. PTI had also urged the ECP to use technology in the form of a bar code or a serial number on the ballot paper which would ensure Senate elections would not become secret in light of the SC observations.

After securing the vote of confidence PM Imran Khan stated in the NA that his govt was aware that money was being collected in the run-up to the Senate elections for the buying and selling of candidates, yet the ECP said a “great election” was carried out. He accused the ECP of allegedly protecting those who made money by holding Senate elections through secret ballot and said the ECP’s failure to hold fair and transparent elections had damaged the country’s morality and democracy.  The ECP’s ignoring the SC advice and ensuring measures to prevent corruption in the Senate elections has tainted the entire democratic process. Considered to be an honorable person the Chief Election Commissioner must take the honorable way out and resign forthwith. At the end of the day, democracy lost and money won.

The second outfall over the years is even more dangerous. Corruption and disloyalty in the highest elected body of the nation have shown everybody that if those can do it and get away with it, why shouldn’t I have my share? Declaring this corrupt election as being held in a ‘good manner’ the ECP has lost all credibility. When the PM offered that the agencies give the ECP a secret briefing, he was wrong. Matters of public interest, in this case particularly so, need to be disclosed publicly. The intelligence agencies must protect and defend Pakistan not only from foreign enemies but from enemies undermining the very state of Pakistan and its political system from within. National security is not only depending on external threats; in our time internal threats to the system are much more dangerous to Pakistan and any other state and need to be confronted. Why can’t the report be published and action be taken against the perpetrators? Vote buying is a criminal offense, so bring them to justice. Fighting corruption is not only Imran Khan’s responsibility. Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari are already convicted offenders, Nawaz Sharif in addition is an absconder; so why is it so difficult to prevent their political activity undermining the state! With forensic evidence available about fake accounts and money-laundering NAB should take more than one day to convict the guilty. By taking months and years NAB has miserably failed.

At one time the terrorists had reached within 60-70 kms of Islamabad as the crow flies, the Army waged a tremendous offensive to rid us of those militants brutalizing the people of Swat by shootings and beheadings. Later the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar when hundred or so innocent children were brutally killed, galvanized the country into making a National Action Plan (NAP). Despite foot-dragging by the Nawaz Sharif regime, the Army under Gen Raheel Sharif launched an extremely effective campaign to successfully eradicate terrorism from FATA and Swat, in particular North Waziristan. His successor Gen Bajwa has continued this offensive very successfully. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives, with tremendous collateral damage for civilians in lives and material cost. This same principle for action stands good against the corrupt threatening the integrity of the State. Without recourse to courts, why not target those clearly corrupt? A democracy with a modicum of control is far better than a corrupted democracy protecting criminals. What can one expect from criminals? Under most circumstances, one does not advise killing them but certainly, they cannot be allowed to subvert democracy at the peril of the State.

His accommodation in another Senate seat certainly notwithstanding, one felt sad about the loss suffered by personal friend Abdul Hafeez Shaikh whom one also admires professionally. However, this setback effectively exposed the criminality inherent in our present democratic process.  Winning the Senate battle in one seat, the PDM lost the war! This was confirmed on March 12, when the PTI candidates won the Chairman and Deputy Chairman elections. The conduct of the Senate elections clearly indicates that Pakistani democracy has the making of a criminal state, despite clear Supreme Court instructions, the ECP’s ostrich stance adds to that perception. What is the Army going to do about it?

The writer is a defense and security analyst


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