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Electoral tensions

Updated June 26, 2018

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WITH the process of political parties finalising tickets for the general election nearly complete, the campaign season is set to begin in earnest.

Less than a month from now, Pakistan will witness a historic poll, a democratic dividend that has eluded this country for all of its history, but that is set to take place in an environment of continuing political uncertainty.

Much, then, will depend on how well the ECP manages the process between now and polling day and how willing the major political parties are to adhere to democratic norms in the crucial weeks ahead.

Unhappily, the political parties themselves have created unnecessary suspense and discord over the process of ticket allocation.

While ticket allocation is crucial, the disproportionate time and attention devoted to the matter are disappointing.

Contrast the frenzied focus on ticket allocation with the near total absence of political interest in the drawing up and presentation of party manifestos.

Surely, the democratic process will not be strengthened if old habits are not shed in favour of new, modern practices.

The economy, for example, is in a perilous state, seemingly headed towards another trough in the boom-and-bust cycle that has characterised economic growth in the country for many decades.

Whichever party or coalition of parties comes to power in August, the state of the economy will force itself to the top of the list of the incoming government’s priorities.

However, other than boilerplate statements about sustaining growth, cutting debt and putting the country’s external accounts in order, no meaningful roadmap to economic stability has been presented by any party as yet.

The PML-N is predictably in denial about the economic risks that it has propelled the country towards; the PPP seems to have learned no lessons from its economically disastrous stint in power between 2008 and 2013; and the PTI is presenting itself as the option of true change while relying on old faces to win power.

With the major political parties seemingly locked in a familiar electoral fight, much will depend on how firmly the ECP is able to guide the campaign and polling processes.

If, as appears to be the case, the major political parties are hunkering down for a fierce, and potentially dirty, electoral fight, the ECP must be willing to use its enhanced powers to keep campaigns free from conflict and ensure that polling day is managed smoothly, and there is no intimidation or violence.

Perhaps the ECP should invite the national and local leaderships of political parties for advice on how the ECP expects the campaigns to be conducted and polling to be carried out.

A calm, fair and firm administrative hand is needed to steer the final stages of the electoral process. The country needs and the electorate deserves a competitive but fair election.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2018