Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in The Nation on September 9, 2014. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from The Nation without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)
Arguably, democracy was the most successful political idea of the last century. In the lexical definition, democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens are meant to participate equally – either directly or, through elected representatives, indirectly. The representatives develop and establish laws by which their society is run. Democracy is still willfully misinterpreted and misused in Pakistan. Oligarchic governments and dictatorial regimes alike have attempted to seek popular support by calling themselves democratic.
The protesters led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, who have overturned the politics of Pakistan for the past two weeks or so, have many ambitions for their homeland. Their demands call for electoral reforms, free and fair elections, social justice, a rules-based democracy, implementation of constitutional clauses relating to rights of people, and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. On the other hand, barring the PTI parliamentarians who have announced to resign from National Assembly and three provincial assemblies amid a bitter row with the government over alleged election rigging, parliament has thrown its weight behind the government led by the PML-N at an emergency session of the bicameral house where parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide lent their unequivocal support to democracy and re-pledged their allegiance to the Constitution of the country.
The prevailing electoral process is faulty to the core and it shall not evolve even after the next 20 general elections if not reformed. Without an iota of a doubt, the polling process should be rigging-free, transparent and fair but there is another aspect of the electoral process that needs immediate attention of all those political parties, which believe in true democracy. The filter that should prevent the candidates having a criminal record from contesting polls is missing from the process. Consequently in a country like ours, where democracy is still at a rather nascent stage, such candidates reach the corridors of power, to protect and secure their vested interests.
As a matter of fact at least 55 candidates from the Punjab only, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, were allowed to contest the May 11 polls despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the ECP that they were on terrorist lists. 40 of these 55 candidates, who were allowed to run for parliamentary elections, belonged to the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba which had already been renamed as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. The ASWJ chief Ahmed Ludhianvi, Aurangzeb Farooqi and Ch Abid Raza Gujjar, are to name a few who were allowed to contest polls despite their involvement in terrorist activities. While the first two contested elections along with over 130 candidates from the MDM platform, standing on a nakedly sectarian manifesto, the latter had a PML-N ticket to run for a National Assembly seat from Gujrat. The MDM alliance aimed for the establishment of the true Islamic system of caliphate in Pakistan, as per its chairman Sami ul Haq, which was in absolute contradiction with the constitution of Pakistan. Yet the MDM candidates were allowed to contest polls even though the ECP had strictly prohibited candidates from using religion, ethnicity, caste or gender to seek votes. In addition to that the ECP had issued a warning of a three-year jail term for any candidate found using such means in the campaign. But strangely enough, no such proscription or jail term was recommended in the ECP’s Code of Conduct for those running their campaign on religious, sectarian grounds. Needless to mention that Ahmed Ludhianvi made his way to parliament on the back of an absurd verdict by an election tribunal of the Lahore High Court, which was later suspended by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Chaudhry Abid Raza Gujjar, who is now a PML-N MNA from NA – 107 Gujrat, had been handed down death penalty under section 302 and section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act 1997 for the murder of six people during a failed assassination attempt on his political rival. His nomination papers for the May 11 elections were rejected by Returning Officer Malik Ali Zulqarnain Awan after an independent candidate challenged his eligibility to run in the elections on the murder charge as well as Mr. Gujjar’s alleged connections with banned terrorist outfits, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba. Gujjar was also listed on the 4th Schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 for his alleged involvement in terrorism-related activities. However quite absurdly, he was later cleared by an election tribunal of the Lahore High Court after he submitted an affidavit to the tribunal stating that he would refrain from engaging in terrorist activities in future.
Among many others PML-N MPA Rana Shoiab Idress, who was caught on tape attacking a police station in Faisalabad, is another grim illustration of the plight of democracy in our country. Mr. Idrees and his accomplices attacked the Khurarianwala police station and freed Rana Zulfiqar and three other prisoners charged in a murder case. The bottom-line is that the filter that should prevent such criminals, law offenders and tax defaulters from contesting polls is missing and needs to be placed firmly in the electoral process. Democracy in Pakistan needs to be supported by each and every one of us so that it may deliver a government of the people, for the people, by the people and not a government of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. Otherwise the people would lose their faith and trust over democracy.
It is a good omen that all political parties in parliament have a consensus on introducing electoral reforms. For this purpose PTI leadership has to sit with other opposition parties in parliament to prepare a new draft law take it to parliament and put the ball in the PML-N’s court. Pakistan People’s Party has rendered great sacrifices for democracy in Pakistan. The party, founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, has braved two military dictators including the tyrannical rule of General Zia-ul Haq. Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and then Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto laid their lives for a democratic Pakistan. The PPP has endorsed the allegations of the PTI about massive rigging in the May 11 elections on the floor of the house. The onus is on the PPP, which is leading opposition parties in parliament, PTI, ANP, MQM and all other political parties to come up with a political solution, under the purview of the constitution of Pakistan, to the current political stalemate. Otherwise another military intervention would result in grave consequences. Only time will tell whether the PML-N government act maturely and strengthen democracy or it will meet the same fate it did in 1997.
Source: Democratic Terror