JUST because a move has political merit doesn’t mean its timing does. No one can argue with the spirit behind Dr Tahirul Qadri’s demands: who wouldn’t want free and fair elections? Pursue such a goal without considering timing and methods, though, and one could end up with no elections at all. Dr Qadri’s agenda remains unclear, so perhaps that logic doesn’t fully apply in his case. But Imran Khan’s agenda is much easier to speculate on. He is on the cusp of breaking through as a significant politician whose party can make a dent at the polls. So while he is well within his rights and the norms of politics to be talking to potential allies, he should think more carefully before getting behind a dubious agenda with potentially disruptive consequences.
It is all very well for Mr Khan to claim that under no circumstances does he want elections to be delayed. And presumably, given how important these polls are for him, he really doesn’t. But it is hard to square that sentiment with his demand for a new Election Commission of Pakistan so late in the game, especially when several top legal minds consider the current ECP to be constitutional and when there is no clear constitutional mechanism for disbanding it and creating a new one. The process for appointing the ECP that is now in place as a result of the 18th Amendment is the most inclusive the country has ever had. So even if those jumping on Dr Qadri’s disband-the-ECP bandwagon — including the PML-Q, even as it works out its election strategy with the PPP — think the current commission isn’t perfect, they should ask themselves if it is biased enough for them to risk delaying a democratic transition.
The chief election commissioner did the right thing yesterday by taking a public stand against the dissolution of the ECP. The hope is that he will not resign out of pressure or frustration before seeing the country through these historic elections. The best way for the ECP to respond to critics is to carry out its task in the most reasonable but independent way possible, and it has shown it can do this through its decisions to carry out voter verification but not delimitation in Karachi, and to ban government recruitment but consider some requests on a case-by-case basis. Much will also depend on the Supreme Court’s choices. As it responds to Dr Qadri’s petition asking for the commission to be scrapped, the SC would do well to keep in mind the critical juncture the country stands at today.