Elections 2018 — a turning point for Pakistan
ELECTION 2018 is yet another opportunity for the people of Pakistan to reject those political leaders that gave overriding consideration to their personal interest over national interest, and also the parties that failed to deliver. Anyhow, casting vote is a national responsibility of every voter, a big turnout on the voting day and voting for the honest and competent candidates could prove a turning point for Pakistan. However, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is constitutionally duty-bound to organize and conduct the election honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law. The training of polling staff plays an important role in ensuring the credibility of the election, as they are the ones who are responsible for the election process – from setting up the polling booths, facilitating voters, counting the votes cast and completing various forms, including the result forms.
Voting is very important in a democracy as it provides people an opportunity to voice their opinion and vote for what they believe in. Furthermore, the system of electoral democracy empowers the voters to take away the powers of elected members, if they fail to come up to the aspirations and/or negate the ideology. Democracy is indeed a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people, and exercised through their elected representatives under a free electoral system. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people’ for the people’. However, he was candid when he said: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” While the system adequately provides procedure to impeach the public office holders, the elected representatives go scot-free in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Pakistani democracy depicts different ground reality, as voters after having elected their representatives virtually become subjects of powerful elite who ride a rough shod over them and shatter their hopes by neglecting their problems, financial difficulties and psychological distress. Promises made during election campaign are forgotten, while perks of public offices are fully enjoyed. Irony of the fate is that same elite group gets elected over and over again and election campaigns are held as rituals, because political parties have become dynasties, and top leaderships of the parties have assumed unprecedented powers by amending the constitution through 18th Amendment. Despite that, elections play an important role in building the nation. The upcoming election 2018 can be a turning-point for Pakistan, and the principal responsibility to bring this change lies with no other than the people of Pakistan.
However, there is a need to educate and sensitise general public of Pakistan of their sacred responsibility towards the State, and it is expected of the institutions responsible for the conduct of election to fulfil their responsibilities in the best possible manner. Parliamentarians have an obligation to seriously engage in the process of legislation and make efforts to resolve the problems faced by the people. To fulfil such a pledge they seriously need to improve educational background and advance political philosophy by following the models like Nelson Mandela. To engage in the process of legislation is a sacred cause and entails development of ethical dogma to work tirelessly to improve the lives of people whom the elected members represent. They must make themselves law-abiding citizens and must realize that they are accountable for their actions. And that they have been empowered by the voters, and it is their responsibility to come up to their aspirations.
It is a matter of grave concern that corruption has deeply permeated in every strata of our society. Scandals regarding corruption, misappropriation, plundering of billions from banks and other federal, provincial and semi-government departments abound. According to an earlier Transparency International Pakistan’s report, Pakistan lost more than Rs 8,500 billion (Rs 8.5 trillion or US$94 billion) in corruption, tax evasion and bad governance during the tenure of the PPP government. Though National Accountability Bureau claimed that it had recovered a part of the plundered money, yet most culprits either escaped or were honourably acquitted by the courts due to lacuna in prosecution and investigation, lack of evidence or witnesses. In the past, efforts were made to reduce the incidence of corruption. During Ayub era, a number of corruption-tainted politicians were barred from participating in the elections under EBDO but they were never tried and convicted.
During Yahya Khan’s Martial Law, 303 civil servants and government functionaries were summarily dismissed but were not prosecuted. During the Bhutto era, services of around 1100 government employees were terminated without holding any trial against them with the result those involved in serious cases of corruption were let off the hook. There was another package for the corrupt under Pervez Musharraf’s watch on 30th April 2000, when Central Board of Revenue had announced Tax Amnesty Scheme to legalize all the hidden assets and black money by charging 10 per cent of the undisclosed income earned on or before 30th June 1999. One would not find such example of rewarding the tax evaders and those having plundered the national exchequer. However, there is a redeeming feature that judiciary and other institutions are determined to bring the corrupt in the dock. Disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a case in point.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.