Squabbling and endlessly bickering on issues, not of any public importance, our parliamentarians may clamour passionately for early elections, yet not enough senators showed up for weeks to enable a quorum to pass an amendment to the Constitution clearing the way for delimitation of National Assembly (NA) constituencies based on the results of the recent national census till Dec 19. This removed a major hurdle for holding elections on schedule. For this very sensitive task; the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set a Nov 10deadline estimating at least five months being needed to use the provisional census data to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies.
Theoretically, elections could be held on time in July/Aug 2018 provided a number of challenges are overcome. Will the ECP be able to prepare credible electoral rolls on time considering that if re-checking of the census data conducted in some constituencies is required to determine the accuracy (or otherwise)? Incorrect or flawed data for any reason would require additional work. The drawing up of new constituencies is already the cause of resentment and anger among political parties, it stands to reason that the process must be transparent and above board without controversy. This will allow the electoral process to go on smoothly and create minimum room for agitation and protest before, during and after the election.
The ongoing controversy relating to former Prime Minister (PM) Mian Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family members adds to the problems, this will multiply near their certain conviction. Ever since the Supreme Court (SC) disqualified the former PM and ordered a criminal investigation into his immediate family members over corruption allegations in July this year, he has been crying foul and decrying judges of the superior judiciary, even going to the extent recently of claiming “they have been hand in glove with dictators over the last 70 years”. Not once has he answered the corruption charges against him. He conveniently forgets that not only was he sponsored into politics by a military dictator but it was the Establishment that brought him into the PM’s seat in the first place. Loyalists of his political party and his family members used abusive language and openly threatened the judges with dire consequences while passing snide innuendos against the Army.
There is a method behind the madness of hurling invectives against the institutions of the state, the former PM wants the delaying of his case for as long as may be possible. His appearances before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court have been spread out by his choosing, having to travel to London on a very frequent basis. His latest ploy has been to announce the organization of a movement which he ironically calls the ‘restoration of justice in Pakistan’, we seem to have short memories about Nov 1997 when PML-N leaders and workers stormed the SC building forcing the then Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah to adjourn the contempt of court case against the then PM Nawaz Sharif. How can those who physically attack the highest form of justice in the land govern the state? Having these corruption cases linger on, on one pretext or the other, will adversely affect the upcoming elections.
The 2017 Census, the first since 1998, has changed the entire dynamics of the equation in the urban and rural spheres, including job quotas, it showed the population surging to a staggering 207.8 million, an increase of 75.4 million people in 19 years with the majority of people, 52.9% living in Punjab. Pakistan’s predominant majority – 132.189 million or 63.6% – still lives in rural areas whereas Sindh came out as the most urbanized province having 52.02% population in urban areas.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) in Sindh have made the 2017 census controversial by claiming that their province had been undercounted. The govt agreed to a third-party audit of selected blocs equivalent to 1% the population, this was rejected by the MQM-P who demanded 5% census blocs be audited. The Council of Common Interests (CCI) had conceded to these reservations but as the exercise will now have to cover more constituencies requiring additional time and effort, it remains pending. Independent observers are of the view that six to seven months would be needed to conduct an audit of 5% blocs. On its part, the govt believes this can be done in three months.
A major problem lies in the manner and timings of the Senate elections are held. The term of Senate members is for six years since the 2003 elections half of the 104 seats i.e. 52 seats are held after every three years as the process of Senate elections is designed in such a manner that the term of half of the members expires after every three years. The next elections are scheduled to be held in March 2018. If the assemblies were to elect the members of the Senate now, it will not be truly representative of the electorate because of the great changes in the census results, these elections will not depict the actual situation on the ground. The first-past-the-post system ensures that a powerful minority will always come to power, this is the case in more than 80% of the seats in our National and Provincial Assemblies. With the majority of the people becoming frustrated about ever obtaining power on our pattern of election which favors a powerful minority, less and fewer people tend to go out to vote. This abstention constitutes a default by which a powerful minority is eventually transformed into a majority. With 15 million votes, less than ie 7.5% of the population, Mian Nawaz Sharif claims to represent the entire electorate. Consider then what will the new Senate represent. Our electoral process must reflect true democracy, the present system is nothing but a sham and a hypocrisy. The numbers involved and the clear choice between two candidates in a “run-off vote” makes an election difficult to rig and manipulate.
Instead of making the elections controversial and adding to our problems, elections should be deferred with consultations among all stakeholders, this delay will also allow elongation of the Senate’s life for a short time, maybe six-time months. The delay is required under the doctrine of the necessity of good governance, this is not a theoretical premise but a pragmatic proposition to ward off the possibility of severe problems cropping up. Whatever we do must target for ending of the present state of uncertainty.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.