WITH the general elections five weeks away, the printing of ballot papers must await, first, the prime minister’s recommendation to the president and, second, the issuance of an ordinance by the latter because the Election Commission of Pakistan has a new, if not fancy, idea. Without taking away anything from the hard work the ECP is doing under the guidance of Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, we are at a loss to understand the utility and urgency of the ‘none of the above’ option to be included in the ballot paper. That some countries do give this option to their voters doesn’t mean Pakistan should follow them. Conditions in Pakistan are vastly different and do not justify a phrase whose cumulative effect on the people’s psyche may erode their belief in democracy. The elections next month are going to be a landmark in our country’s history. For that reason the aim of all stakeholders should be to strengthen the people’s belief in the ability of their elected represen-tatives to serve them.
Four military interventions didn’t allow Pakis-tan to develop democratic institutions. This was obviously reflected in the quality of politicians.
Nevertheless, the completion of the five-year term by the last legis-latures testifies to the elected representatives’ ability to work democracy and push the process forward. The ‘none of the above’ option could perhaps bewilder a voter and induce negative feelings about the process itself. Already there are anti-democratic forces waiting in the wings, and there are extremists in the religious right who believe democracy to be anti-thetical to Islam. The two schools of thought may otherwise be incompatible, but their views on democracy converge. In case 51 per cent of voters stamp the ‘none of the above’ box, a re-election will be required. Pakistan is not ready for this. If at all this option is to be included in the ballot paper, why the hurry? Why not leave it to the next parliament? The May 11 vote is too precious to be trifled with.