Anything but democracy

The country must tread very carefully

The twelfth general elections, held on February 8, have created an atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust. A very famous quote which is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, “History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes”, can be well-applied to the situation of each general election in Pakistan. The circumstances and settings may have been different, but the same phenomena occur repeatedly. As written by the former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman, in an article for The Economist, “Pakistan’s Election Could Be a Farce”, validates the current situation. The footprints of external forces persuading the outcome of the people’s mandate are no longer covert from the eyes of the world.

Numerous US journalists have spoken about the ill conduct of general elections as it poses a huge question to democracy. With international media, including CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Financial Times, and several other mainstream broadcasting outlets showing their deep concerns towards the transparency of the 2024 general elections, it will be hard for the Election Commission of Pakistan to confront the allegations of rigging.

This time, a vast number of people had registered to cast their votes in the general elections– including overseas Pakistani citizens who arrived from foreign countries specifically for this watershed event. According to FAFEN, about 60 million people took part to exercise their right to vote– making it the largest number of voters in the history of Pakistan. Such a huge number of participants shows that people are not only interested in change but they sternly believe in democracy. However, the misadventure on the very next day of the polls turned the tables and the whole nation was left in doubt.

Prior to polls, each party struggles to gain as much support as possible by carrying out election campaigns, which is their constitutional right. However, for the members of PTI, things have been different. As evident from reports, many of the party workers were detained and a level playing field was absent. Despite a severe crackdown on PTI members and its supporters, the party remained the most popular in the country and people have shown outstanding support in the form of votes.

Democracy, as defined, is “the government of the people, for the people, and by the people”, which means that in a democratic state, it is the people who choose their leader. Any party leading with a majority of votes can form a government. It is totally against the principles of democracy that some external elements are trying to steal the mandate of the people. Pakistan is not new to this misfortune as similar events have occurred before too. However, amid political chaos, the government is once again jammed, with very limited options to resolve the issue of seat distribution.

Besides, the lawmaking body needs to pull the reins and get hold of the situation or else it will further strengthen the revolutionary thought of the people against the government institutions. In addition, external forces shall never be in any way allowed to influence the turnout of the general elections, otherwise democracy would just become an illusion in the country.

The authorities should combine to bring transparency and openness to the system in order to restore people’s trust in the government. Unlike any other democracy, in Pakistan, the authority over decision-making has perhaps remained in the hands of the establishment– to fulfil its interests. Each general election held in the past may be called anything but democratic– given the meddling of the institutions. This is indeed high time for the ECP and the establishment to reflect on mistakes and think about that one narrative which has the majority. If it is not about the will of the people then what is the purpose of democracy?

While the caretaker government is dealing with the results of the general elections, a rocky road waits for Pakistan’s economy. The nuclear-armed nation is currently battling with multiple problems, where economic instability is at the top. The national debt is $131 billion– while it continues to increase, and it is forecast that by 2028 it will touch $409.63 billion. Last year’s deal with the IMF has saved Pakistan from default, but the country cannot be left at the mercy of external aid.

In addition, due to increased unemployment and low income, poor and middle-class families are struggling with financial problems. The suicide cases are on the surge– given the all-time high rates of electricity and gas. If inflation continues to increase, it might compromise the survivability of the population. As a result, there is a desperate need for a government that has an economic plan for the future.

Moreover, it will be hard for the ECP to recover its already torn image because this time it has intensely worried the democratic powers. However, national unity and strong communication between all the parties is the need of the hour. The leaders of the largest parties (PML-N, PPP, and former PTI) should pave the way for cooperation and reconciliation. The population of 240 million is already done with longstanding political and economic instability. Besides, the lawmaking body needs to pull the reins and get hold of the situation or else it will further strengthen the revolutionary thought of the people against the government institutions. In addition, external forces shall never be in any way allowed to influence the turnout of the general elections, otherwise democracy would just become an illusion in the country.

Muhtasim Afridi
Muhtasim Afridi
The writer is a research intern at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad; he can be reached at: [email protected]

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