Elections 2013: Revenge of Democracy
By Dr Shakil A. Rai
Los Angeles, CA

 

The just concluded elections-2013 is historic in many respects. It is the first democratic transition in more than six-and-a-half decades of Pakistan’s history; a point to be proud of that it happened in this country, and also a reason to be ashamed of that it took so long to see democracy take roots.

It was the bloodiest election campaign ever, where undemocratic forces tried to derail the process and create chaos. Democratic forces of all shades and shapes joined hands against the common enemy — the terrorists, and continued their election campaign against heavy odds. Those living in the safety and affluence of America have no idea what it takes to campaign for elections in an atmosphere of constant fear; and where more than sixty people have been killed while trying to carry their electoral message. It takes real courage to campaign in such a vicious environment.

On the Election Day the voters turned out in huge numbers (60%) in defiance of the warnings hurled by the forces of darkness and death. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor all lined up to exercise their right to chose their next government. Pakistani youth traditionally stayed away from electoral process. This time they turned out in exceptionally large number and exercised their right to vote.

Then there were attempts to inject undemocratic forces and derail or at least delay democratic process as envisaged in the Constitution. A self-styled Sheikh ul Islam with excellent skills in demagoguery was imported from Canada. He was helped to stage a mammoth public meeting in Lahore where he demanded postponement of elections and touted the favorite theme of the establishment that all corrupt, dishonest, and untrustworthy people in political offices should be eliminated first and only then electoral process could be allowed to begin. The people of Pakistan were able to see through the mischief very quickly and the man was dumped with the same haste and enthusiasm with which he was picked up earlier.

Then former military dictator General Musharraf returned to ‘save Pakistan’. He got no traction at any stage and eventually decided to boycott elections, wherein he had no prospect at all.

Election was boycotted before hand by two political parties, one led by the imported Sheikh ul Islam, and the other headed by General Musharraf. These political orphans who entered to sabotage the system were shunted out well in time, for democracy to claim success.

By and large the mass media played a constructive role in the process. Some projected one party and the other went for a different one. Yet, their overall performance strengthened the hands of democratic forces. Also, electronic media made good money from political advertisements. So for them democracy turned out to be a good business, as well.

For the first time, social media played an important role in the campaign. Tweeters and Facebookers gave a new dimension to the campaign. However, since its users were mostly urban based youngsters it briefly led to a kind of hype in favor of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its leader Imran Khan. It masked the ground reality as it was unfolding in rural Pakistan and small towns.

Emergence of Imran Khan as an alternate political force with strong democratic credentials is a phenomenon to be reckoned with. PTI is the only political party that held intra-party elections which saw quite a few upset in the established order. This is a new tradition and other political parties which are woven around personalities and families will have to follow it, if they want survive in a democratic society.

Opinion polls held before elections, and political analyses given by ‘experts’ were closer to the actual outcome. Almost all of them had put PML(N) at number one, PPP second and PTI and MQM in third position. By and large this turned out to be correct.

Law-enforcement agencies did an excellent job in ensuring peaceful voting process and held the terrorists at bay, at least on that one day.

Elections were as free and fair, as possibly they could be. There are reports of fraud and rigging at the polling stations in some parts of the country. These complaints should be investigated vigorously and earnestly. Those found guilty should be punished, and re-election be ordered wherever necessary. This is important to keep the democratic process untainted, and to maintain the reputation of fairness and impartiality of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The caretaker setup, though handicapped in some respects, put up a brave face and led the country through a challenging period. They deserve our thanks for undertaking an otherwise thankless job.

‘Democracy is the best revenge’ is a saying attributed to late Benazir Bhutto. Ironically democracy wreaked its revenge on a party that she inherited and led to victory more than once. In democracy this does happen, and it is not the end of the road for Pakistan Peoples Party. They can stage a comeback as they have done before.

Democracy triumphed and put those to shame who stage-managed a sham accountability process to weaken democratic leadership and strengthen their own grip on power. The accountability we witnessed on May 11 had not been seen since the election of 1970. Those who clamor for kangaroo courts to try and punish politicians for their misdeeds may take a cue that electoral process, when it is free and fair is a better tool of accountability than any judicial or administrative process.

Politicians are bad, politics is dangerous, democracy does not suit our psyche, and only a strong dictator can keep the country united and safe. This multi-pronged attack on democracy started with the first military takeover in 1958 and had gained significant traction among the affluent sections of society, and Pakistani diaspora, especially those enjoying the fruits of democracy in rich Western societies. The latest elections have, hopefully, changed their perception. According to media reports there were a few chartered flights from Europe to Pakistan that flew in hundreds of people to vote in the election.

Those who have been elected to power are now expected to deliver. The road ahead is long. It’s a hard climb on a steep slippery ascent. Problems are daunting and patience of the electorate has been worn thin.

PML has every right to celebrate victory, but they should know they have been put to a severe test. Failure is not an option, but if they do fail, the revenge of democracy will be as unforgiving as it has been to the erstwhile rulers.

Democracy is a great system that ensures smooth transition of power, and gives ordinary citizen the right to vote a government in or out. Thus, democracy works mostly in favor of the people and less in favor of the rulers. To that extent democracy is a dangerous recipe for the ones in power. They have to double down the road of recovery and delivery; there is no time to waste. The forces of democracy are at your heels, so hurry, and deliver before late. - drshakilrai@gmail.com

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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