Cred­i­ble Elec­tions

The Miracle - - Opinion - By:Dr Niaz Murtaza

PAK­ISTAN des­per­ately needs cred­i­ble polls that pro­duce po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. A regime with a clear pub­lic man­date can tackle se­ri­ous na­tional prob­lems more eas­ily. But pub­lic man­dates have of­ten been usurped in Pak­istan via var­i­ous rig­ging tools. These tools have be­come less bla­tant over time given lo­cal and global pres­sures but still re­main po­tent. Vote de­lay has been the most com­mon rig­ging tool, con­sum­ing 30-plus years since 1947, with the es­tab­lish­ment plan­ning much of these de­lays, aided by some op­por­tunist politi­cians. The 1970 polls were the first cred­i­ble polls but un­luck­ily suf­fered from vote re­sults’ re­jec­tion as the es­tab­lish­ment didn’t trans­fer power to the win­ner. The 1977 polls were held by politi­cians. They were rigged bla­tantly via vote stuff­ing, vote mis­count­ing, vote sup­pres­sion and vote ex­tor­tion. Other polls gen­er­ally con­sid­ered rigged (1985, 1990, 1993, 1997 and 2002) were held un­der the shadow of the es­tab­lish­ment. The 1970, 1988, 2008 and 2013 polls were more cred­i­ble. The first three were held un­der the es­tab­lish­ment; were they aton­ing par­tially for past rig­ging? There is a clear pat­tern though. Polls were ma­nip­u­lated at the peak of its pow­ers, when there was lit­tle in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal pres­sure to hold cred­i­ble elec­tions. Cred­i­ble polls were held only after long bouts of mar­tial laws had ru­ined the coun­try and there was much in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal pres­sure to fi­nally do so. Even then, fair polls were held not due to any in­sti­tu­tional strength­en­ing of the elec­toral process by dic­ta­tors but due to their de­ci­sions to rein in cer­tain el­e­ments un­der pres­sure.

In con­trast, the 2013 polls were more cred­i­ble due to the in­sti­tu­tional mea­sures vol­un­tar­ily leg­is­lated by politi­cians, es­pe­cially the clause re­lated to in­terim regimes. Clearly, it is sec­tions of the es­tab­lish­ment, and not politi­cians, which are chiefly held re­spon­si­ble for ma­nip­u­lat­ing polls in Pak­istan. In fact, by in­tro­duc­ing the con­sti­tu­tional clause about neu­tral in­terim set­ups, politi­cians have vol­un­tar­ily elim­i­nated their abil­ity to im­ple­ment na­tion­wide rig­ging un­der any cen­tralised plan. The main po­tent tool left in the hands of politi­cians to rig polls is vote buy­ing at con­stituency level. But this tool is dif­fer­ent from all other rig­ging tools where vot­ers are de­prived of prac­ti­cally all choice. In vote buy­ing, peo­ple still have the choice of whether to ac­cept money and whether to vote for the money giver in the pri­vacy of the vote booth. That said, it is also true that op­por­tunist politi­cians have al­ways pro­vided po­lit­i­cal cover to the pow­ers that be in their quest to elim­i­nate other politi­cians. Thus, the PPP sided with the es­tab­lish­ment against the Awami League in 1971. The PML helped it in its strug­gles against the PPP in the 1980s and 1990s and the PTI is now be­ing sim­i­larly ac­cused of siding with cer­tain el­e­ments against the PML-N. Over time, the tools of rig­ging have be­come less bla­tant and more sub­tle due to in­creas­ing ex­ter­nal pres­sure and in­ter­nal pres­sures. So, pro­longed vote de­lays have be­come less com­mon. Vote stuff­ing and de­lib­er­ate vote mis­count­ing un­der a planned strat­egy na­tion­wide have also be­come less fea­si­ble due to greater scru­tiny. For ex­am­ple, the main tools dur­ing the 1990s were ones like vote sup­pres­sion, vote ex­tor­tion and vote buy­ing. Even there, the fo­cus was on us­ing less bla­tant tac­tics. The fo­cus was not on phys­i­cally stop­ping vot­ers of a par­tic­u­lar party but on dis­cour­ag­ing strong can­di­dates from com­pet­ing on its plat­form and vot­ers from vot­ing for it by giv- ing clear sig­nals that the party was un­likely to be al­lowed to win. These sig­nals in­cluded du­bi­ous dis­missals of the party’s gov­ern­ments, se­lec­tive ac­count­abil­ity and con­tro­ver­sial court ver­dicts. With vote buy­ing and vote ex­tor­tion, it ap­peared that cer­tain sec­tions of the es­tab­lish­ment were get­ting strong can­di­dates to switch par­ties via car­rot-and-stick ap­proaches. After sit­ting out the 2008 and 2013 polls, there are worry- ing signs that some quar­ters could be get­ting ready to play an ac­tive role in the 2018 polls. While hard ev­i­dence is miss­ing , many of the emer­gent pat­terns seem sim­i­lar to the sub­tle tac- tics used for vote sup­pres­sion vote buy­ing and vote ex­tor­tion in the 1990s. The con­tro­ver­sial dis­missal and life­time bar­ring of a prime min­is­ter, se­lec­tive ac­count­abil­ity and sus­pi­cious chang­ing of loy­al­ties by op­por- tunist politi­cians are per­ceived as some signs. The end re­sult may be a hung par­lia­ment. While this may the aims of the pow­ers that sui be, t un­for­tu­nately, it will also mean a weak gov­ern­ment with­out the au­thor­ity to deal ef­fec­tively with fes­ter­ing na­tional prob­lems.

Over time, the tools of rig­ging have be­come less bla­tant.

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