- Even-handed, consistent behaviour essential for fair elections
The chief curse of Pakistan’s general elections, even when they take place on time and under civilian control, is their inevitable lack of universal acceptance, and rooftop shouting of foul play by losing candidates. Weak monitoring, fiddling at polling booths, due to lack of training or individual and institutional bias, by Election Commission of Pakistan and its electoral staff are alleged. Even before the tumult of the electoral process has settled, an outcry is raised, resulting in filing of complaints in election tribunals and the apex court, the process normally lasting the entire length of the assembly. In 2013, returning officers were held to be the primary culprits, and their incompetence or complicity the major cause of questioning of ballot credibility.
To forestall such an unfortunate and costly eventuality in July 25 polls, the ECP, with a caretaker setup in place, is trying to convey the impression of a just scrutinising body, by censoring the candidates overstepping set limits, or guilty of concealment, belonging to all political parties. Still, it is lack of distrust in ECP working which has spawned that novel device, found in no other democracy, a caretaker government to oversee national elections. The Election Commission of our otherwise reviled eastern neighbour has successfully overcome any vestige of unfairness or prejudice in successive (timely) elections, whose results are accepted without demur, by the simple, old-fashioned method of sternly applying existing electoral rules and parameters equally to all political parties.
The ECP’s foremost failure in the past lies in the sphere of keeping the ‘well-given’ candidates’ election expenditure within the laid-down limits, and the actual extravagant, even astronomical, spending has made a mockery of its rules and regulations in this regard, seriously denting its credibility. Herein, it again faces its biggest test in the upcoming elections. But ECP and the 20 appellate tribunals formed by it to hear appeals are showing a considered, well-balanced method and approach regarding disqualification or otherwise of candidates of all parties, purely on merit. Money and moustaches’ size, or ‘high’ birth and status, have rightly been jettisoned. Transparency with fairness is indeed the key to successful, controversy-free elections.