Electric Toothbrush vs Miswak

Until we can use electric toothbrushes, maybe miswaks should serve?

A letter addressed to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was recently leaked to the public. Iftikhar Khan has given the details of the matter and of the resulting furore in a National Daily.

It is known by now that NADRA wished to hire the ECP to develop an online voting system and electronic voting machines, for which it offered to pay a very large sum. The details are contained in a letter in which an outstanding factor is the language. You’d expect the commission that runs the national election system to express themselves significantly better than it does in that letter, but more importantly, you wonder why NADRA is paying the ECP to set up a voting system. Shouldn’t the ECP be worrying about that matter (as tf points out in the letter), since elections and all things related are their job? But perhaps the ECP has not managed to get its act together after all these years.

It has been the ultimate tragedy for this country that there are so many obstacles in the way of accountability and justice. Some might say accountability and justice do not exist. That makes it hard to achieve any progress, or to justify spending money in ways such as the above. These roadblocks need to be addressed before anything else

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A slight digression at this point, to speak of a matter that should concern the ECP and which has to do with their ‘getting their act together’:

Local Government Elections in the Cantonment Boards were recently held in the country. In these elections the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) was defeated in several major cities. The Prime Minister was not pleased, and he has asked the PTI’s chief organizer and its Secretary General to find out why this happened.

There could be several reasons for this defeat, several come to mind, but one that comes to the forefront, personally, is a canvassing letter received from a PTI candidate prior to these elections, in which voting slips containing voters’ relevant information – ID card numbers, address, name etc., were clipped to the outside of the envelope, displaying all that information for anyone to read.

  1. If a voter must elect someone to represent their interests, would a person capable of allowing the above be the right person? He would no doubt excuse himself by saying that he cannot be expected to keep an eye on every small detail and worker, in which case will he be able to do so when in office? After all, the Right to Privacy of Data and Information is a major concern, and even the Constitution of Pakistan grants that right to the citizens of the country. Pakistan is also signatory to several International Covenants, on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which both uphold the right to privacy, and to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights which also upholds the right to privacy. A representative who is unable to prevent his department from committing such flagrant breaches of civil rights has a problem; maybe such ‘small’ things explain the PTI’s losses.
  2. When an attempt was made to contact the ECP regarding this infringement of the right to privacy of data, it turned out that the ECP’s inbox was full. So much for that.

An online voting system and electronic machines are good ideas. But before we invest in expensive electric toothbrushes, it would be a good idea to get our heads around the concept of oral hygiene itself, to understand why it is important and how it works, and its impact on a person’s overall well-being. It might be a better idea to make the humble miswak work until an electric toothbrush is feasible.

For a society that has little idea about the importance of elections, and almost no idea about the rights of the electorate and the duties of the elected, an expensive voting system seems to be overkill.

In a democracy it is possible for any person who gains the majority vote to act as representative of the people, but perhaps there should be some scheme to educate these elected representatives before they take office, a scheme that teaches them about things that count and are more important than the salary, the prestige, flagged car, guards and such gimmicks and publicity. They need to know how to get the job done, for heaven’s sake, to have some idea of the basic laws of the country. The PTI has been outstanding in this matter, with the Chief Minister of a major province, personally appointed by the Prime Minister himself, being as clueless a person as any, with his patron often not far behind.  There are many other people’s representatives in the same league, persons who have abused, cursed and slapped their way through their tenure, and have lived to tell the tale without being removed from office.

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It seems that politicians across the board ignore important things, and matters directly related to their job; they cross the floor when it suits them, pay attention to gimmicks alone, and spend valuable time bad-mouthing the opposition and little else.

The Minister of Railways for example, recently recommended that such institutions as the ECP should be “set ablaze,” a recommendation to arson, made at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, no less.

In such an atmosphere, do we really need a voting system that costs Rs 2.4 billion, and voting machines that will most likely be kicked out of service, literally, when the predominantly uneducated populace of the country cannot get them to work? Or perhaps they will be set on fire, as recommended by the Minister for Railways himself?

It has been the ultimate tragedy for this country that there are so many obstacles in the way of accountability and justice. Some might say accountability and justice do not exist. That makes it hard to achieve any progress, or to justify spending money in ways such as the above. These roadblocks need to be addressed before anything else.

Rabia Ahmed
The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/

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