The government giving in to Dr Tahirul Qadri’s demands for electoral reforms and to implement the decision taken by the Supreme Court on June 8, 2012 has met a controversy as it has been revealed that Awami Workers Party (AWP) President Abid Hassan Minto and Bilal Hassan Minto had submitted an application in the Supreme Court (SC) on January 8 notifying the court that last year’s decision had still not been implemented by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
According to details, AWP President Abid Hassan Minto submitted a petition to the SC alleging that SC’s decision to remove the ‘First Past the Post’ rule, making voting compulsory and to print None of the Above (NOTA) option on the ballots had not been executed. Moreover, Manto said that the SC decision to change the rules for campaigning during elections had also not been implemented.
In the June 8 decision by the SC, the ECP was ordered to change campaigning rules whereby political parties would be allowed to only distribute party manifestos and arrange a fixed number of public meetings. The ECP was also directed by the SC to bar car rallies and big hoardings during campaigns.
However, the ECP changed the procedure of election campaigning along the lines of law and order, whereby activists of political parties were not allowed to carry weapons during campaigning. No decision was made to ban other campaigning activities which are practiced by political parties.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Bilal Manto said, “The reason for the SC decision was simple; big money spent on big campaigns only favor mainstream political parties during elections. Smaller political parties with lesser budgets do not stand a chance in such a situation. This is not true democracy when only a few political parties keep dominating the political scene because of their massive budgets.”
Moreover, he said that the SC order to ECP to implement the mandatory voting and the NOTA option on ballots had not been executed.
Furthermore, he said that minor political parties had written to the ECP three times, saying that as the general elections approached, it was questionable whether the ECP intended to make the required changes in time for the upcoming general elections.
Manto said that when no response was heard from the ECP, Abid Hassan Minto filed another petition in the SC demanding the implementation of electoral reforms on January 8, 2012. He said that it was after filing this petition that the ECP finally got in touch with the government, seeking further directives.
In lieu of this, Tahirul Qadri’s electoral reforms are of no significant importance, Manto said.
“In essence, not only did Qadri fail to demand any serious reform, he also achieved little for elections. I am very confident that the reforms will not be implemented,” he maintained.
Talking to Pakistan Today, AWP federal committee member Jamil Omar said, “This also points to a difference in strategies. We took this matter to the courts and were consistent in our demands. Qadri just wasted a lot of resources to take a long march in an attempt to bully political leaders.”
He further said, “I have fundamental disagreements with Dr Qadri at all levels. However, if electoral reforms was what he wanted, a broader consensus could have been reached between smaller parties who are directly affected by ECP’s decisions.”
He also highlighted the difference in campaigns for the cause of electoral reforms. “Dr Qadri had massive funding to sponsor his TV campaigns and take a long march to Islamabad. We had nothing, and we took the issue to the Supreme Court, the highest deciding authority in Pakistan.”
This is not the first time the struggles of smaller political parties have been overshadowed by a show of strength by mainstream political parties.
When Imran Khan took his long march to South Waziristan on an anti-drone protest, there were disgruntled murmurings that the media had ignored the crucial Peshawar Declaration between political parties and members of Amann Tehreek (an umbrella organisation of all walks of civil society). Signed in 2010, the declaration was an endorsement of peace in the conflict zone and condemned the drone attacks in the area by the United States. The participants in the declaration had unanimously decided to actively engage in a political solution to terrorism – a key point Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan took as his agenda when he took his long march to Waziristan.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Senator Pervaiz Raheed said that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had a committee in the parliament that made recommendations to the ECP and they had submitted their suggestions.
When asked why the SC decision had not been implemented by the ECP, he dodged the question by saying, “That is a question for the ECP, not PML-N.”
PTI leader Shafqat Mahmood and PPP spokesman Fawwad Chaudhry were unavailable for comments.