And with that Pakistan could finally set in motion a tradition of smooth democratic transition
It isn’t as if this is a big secret. Everyone has been talking about the next big challenge facing our country: the election. In normal democratic nations, there are no ‘ifs’ hanging over the idea of a government stepping down to allow another to take charge. In Pakistan, though, this is an anomaly, something unique. The intricacies and the patterns behind this fascinating game of politics are extremely wonderful to watch. Sure there is a daunting task lying ahead of us. Sure there is a big question if Pakistan as a whole will be able to manage such a task. But let us understand the beauty of it: here is a nation about to take a plunge in democracy. The weak democratic state of Pakistan is about to allow itself to heal a little. One has to appreciate the significance of it in the history of the country, if nothing else.
But there is a general (and persistent) rumour going around that Pakistan may face a delayed election at best, and no election at worst. The rumour is not baseless. The law and order situation in the country has deteriorated over the past few months. TTP launched a brazen attack in Peshawar and demonic tattoos were revealed. The anti-polio drive was suspended because volunteers came under attack, and around ten people lost their lives. The Supreme Court issued a contempt notice to MQM’s Altaf Hussain, who refused to appear before the court. ANP leader Bashir Bilour was killed in a targeted attack. Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri made an untimely return and made impractical demands to implement the constitution, or face a long march. PML-N has been shouting itself hoarse that it will not stand for delayed elections, PTI is barely holding its party together, PPP is making changes within its party to reign in more members and to secure a solid pro-PPP interim setup.
So, one understands the ruckus. But one must also understand that the one thing the election has going for it is the fact that the Pakistan has a constitution. In chapter two of the constitution, article 52 (Duration of the National Assembly) clearly states that “the National Assembly shall, unless sooner dissolved, continue for a term of five years from the day of its first meeting and shall stand dissolved at the expiration of its term.”
With this as a basis, what political party in Pakistan is going to go against the constitution and postpone the elections without setting in motion a series of events the likes of which the country has never seen before?
If the election is delayed, and the country descends into chaos, what will happen? The logical answer is calling in the military. It is doubtful that the country’s leadership would want to go down that road (again). And who is going to demand the return of the army? The PML-N, a party that already has had strained relations with the armed forces? The controversial MQM? The weakened PTI, that has had a history of supporting Musharraf and has since then called for a democratic Pakistan? PPP, the party that may cause the disruption in the first place? Or would it be Tahir-ul-Qadri, a man who has already faced so much backlash and ridicule for his long march threat? What is Qadri going to do at the end of his long march? Orchestrate a deal with the establishment? How would that, still, postpone the elections?
A military takeover today will not be tolerated. The media is freer than ever before, the judiciary is stronger than ever before and the political consciousness among the masses is better than ever before. Pakistan as a whole has been picking up pieces from what was left of it after several generals ruled the country. No one wants the military called in. Even under such questionable circumstances, no one has said that they’d prefer the generals watching over the elections – because they all know that if that came to be, the elections may not happen again.
Moreover, it is doubtful that Pakistan’s armed forces would risk wasting the five years they have spent trying to build a better military-civilian relationship. One can only hope that the military has matured beyond that. The armed forces, over the last five years, have tried very hard to distance themselves from Pakistan’s democratic process. Yes, the military has flexed its muscle a couple of times over the last few years – old habits do die hard. But for the most part, the civilian government has been allowed to function with all of its eccentricities. One must also remember that dictatorial regimes world over are meeting their logical end and Pakistan’s generals are aware of it too.
There is also a strong belief that it may not be a question of the military taking over. It may more be a question of whether a civilian-technocrat setup, backed by the establishment, is in store for us. This, too, could be achieved by delaying the elections and setting up regime which has the approval and/or the backing of the establishment without the generals having to step in directly. That may be more likely than a direct military takeover. However, that too has the same argument. How does one achieve a delay in the elections without going against the constitution? By ensuring that the situation gets worse than before? That, again, is very likely. But at the risk of sounding repetitive, how does one justify a move against the constitution they are so eager to uphold?
Elections are a natural part of ensuring a nation’s transition to a stronger future. India’s Indira Gandhi was assassinated and one of the country’s biggest, bloodiest massacres ensued as a result. Despite such chaos, the election was held as demanded by their constitution. Despite various separatist movements in the country (three main secessionist movements of Khalistan, Assam and Kashmir and small movements in Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur and, Nagaland), the country continues to uphold a strong tradition of holding its elections on time. One could say that because the democratic process in India was facilitated because of its elections, the country has managed to build stronger institutions and keep itself together.
With this lesson in mind, it is imperative to understand that the elections must be held on time, and so far, despite what all rumours suggest, there is no reason why anyone would challenge the constitution so blatantly and postpone the country’s electoral process. So let the rumour mills run. Let the politicians sweat a little over the fear that elections may get delayed. If the general elections are allowed to happen as scheduled, Pakistan would finally set in motion a tradition of smooth democratic transition.
The writer is a staff member at Pakistan Today