Twentieth time’s the charm
The ruling coalition and the opposition have both been successful with their agendas. The opposition wanted to ensure that the government couldn’t operate on full thrusters and couldn’t complete its term. The government, on the contrary, wanted to complete its term at all costs. If you look at the passage of the 20th Amendment and the lead up to it, you could possibly say that both political forces have achieved their respective objectives to an extent. Early elections are taking place but the government too has completed its term with somewhat reduction.
Till the time of writing, the anti-democratic forces that were astir to dislodge the government have been badly defeated. For four years, these people have been waiting with bated breath for the ball to drop. But, despite their being blue with breathless anticipation, it has not happened. More acrimony has crept into their attitudes. They have now stooped to ridiculing both the government and the opposition. The hopes they pinned on the judiciary too were dashed. They even had hallucinations of approaching boots but they are yet to advance. One gentleman even had arrangements to watch the security footage of the camera at the main gate of the president house. He didn’t want to miss the departure of the ambulance he thought would take President Zardari out. All his efforts have been in vain and the passage of the 20th Amendment has ensured that the respected gentleman’s constitution has taken a turn for the worse. The poor man, against his best wishes, will now have to watch the president exit the president house after completing his term respectfully and be possibly elected for a second term while still stationed there. I just hope that those waiting for the president’s exit in an ambulance don’t tempt fate and fall to the same misfortune they wish on the president.
When we talk of democracy, we don’t talk of a miracle-working system. But what happens in a democracy is no less than a miracle. All you need is a discerning eye. If I start counting the accomplishments of the current democratic dispensation (the working of which must be credited to all the parties sitting in parliament right now), you will have to marvel at the fact they have indeed performed Herculean tasks.
Four dictatorships had marred the face of both the constitutions we had passed (1956 and 1973). The 1973 constitution had been tarnished for well over 35 years. This time period saw two dictatorships and ten years of democratic rule where the army had the upper hand incontrovertibly. During these times, forces that could harm the country progressively strengthened and those that could save it progressively weakened. At the end of the last dictatorial rule, the country was mired in a myriad of crises (much like it was at the end of every single dictatorship). Now if one recalls the scores of predicaments we were beset with, it amazes one that this lame-duck democracy was able to pull through for four years and we are now standing at a point where we can expect better things to come.
The Pakistan that was being threatened by the IMF has now itself refused loans. The US that used to bully us into accepting this demands now is told that it has to wait for the parliament’s decision for its demands to be met. Relations with India seem to be back on the track they were before the Kargil debacle. The constitution has not only been restored but restored in a better form. The judiciary is independent and so much so that the government is helpless before it. There is loadshedding but the government now has the capacity to deal with it. As soon as our fiscal crunch easens, it will be equipped to end loadshedding. Terrorism, that had eclipsed the entire country, has now been ended to a great extent. The government has now even established its writ on Swat and its peripheries which were previously out of its administrative control and the 3 million people who had been internally displaced in the process of re-establishing the states writ have now been rehabilitated. And, moreover, democracy has successfully withstood the pressure of certain decisions of the military and judiciary which were purported to end it. And so it goes.
The 20th Amendment which the national assembly has passed has tried to rectify an ill which many developed countries have not been able to deal with to date. The electoral rolls have a key part in the electoral process in any democracy. If we manage to make new voter list after what has happened, we will be able to say with pride that Pakistan has the most accurate voter lists in the world. It was a news item just yesterday that even the voter lists in the US have a great amount of inconsistencies and bogus voters. Many of the registered voters are dead and many’s particulars are incorrect. But the lists that we will use in the upcoming elections will hopefully be even better than those in developed countries and old, functioning democracies. It is not possible to avoid a certain margin of error in such a huge undertaking. For instance, from the day of the preparation and finalisation of the lists to election day, many people will have died. Obviously, their names cannot be excluded from the lists but their vote can merely be cancelled on the basis of the provision of reasonable evidence on the spot. But still, these lists will still probably be the most authentic by any standards.
Since the creation of Pakistan to date, all the elections have seen some kind of rigging. The rigging came not just from the candidates but often the government. Once, it was done on such a large scale that Air Marshall Asghar Khan said that the results had been prepared in the GHQ. The public had become disillusioned with the process and no longer believed in the ballot. They believed that their vote would make no difference as they voted for somebody, but somebody else was elected. But now the chance of administrative rigging has been eradicated to a great extent. The process of making a caretaker setup has been defined so meticulously and extensively that it is not possible for a single party or person to pressurise or influence it and the chief election commissioner has been empowered to such an extent that nobody will be able to coerce him. And last but not least, there is an active and independent judiciary to protect and support the CEC and the EC. But despite all this, if somebody tries to influence the process with the help of the military establishment, they will only be able to do so if they defeat all civil institutions. Local candidates will indeed try to rig the process to the best of their abilities but the local bodies also have the state apparatus at their beckoning to curb and marginalise such attempts.
The road to one’s ultimate destiny is paved with many difficulties. Everyone believes that the road that they have taken will take them to paradise. Its only in democracy that everybody has the space to believe that theirs is the right way and follow it. Democracy is the playground where everybody is a winner and all competing opinion can come to a peaceful resolution. I believe that it is only through democratic process that we will able to get a handle on the corruption problem. The purveyors of army-backed dictatorships and tsunamis who talk of ending corruption are just spinning a web of deception. Corruption can never be ended, merely controlled and curtailed.
But in Pakistan, one must temper all optimism. So having said all this we must give ourselves a cautionary reminder that we live in a country where a moment is enough to change all hopes and dream to dust.
The writer is one of Pakistan’s most widely read columnists.