Time to move on

Updated July 27, 2018

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PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan — a long, quintessentially Pakistani struggle to achieve the summit of national politics has finally succeeded. Imran Khan will be the next prime minister of Pakistan and, irrespective of the significant controversies in the run-up to polling day and in the hours after polling closed, it ought to be recognised that the PTI leader enjoys genuine national political appeal.

In an address to the nation yesterday, Mr Khan set out in a broad-brush manner his economic and governance reforms and foreign policy priorities. Mr Khan struck a sensible note in his speech and he ought to be given the political space to try and turn his ideas into reality.

Read: 'From a politician to a statesman' — analysts react to Imran's victory speech with cautious optimism

To Pakistan’s enduring bad luck, the implementation phase of reforms and policy changes has been relatively poor across most governments. That must change. A more prosperous, modern and just Pakistan that is at peace with its neighbours is an agenda that surely all Pakistanis agree on.

Mr Khan has tried to put his and the PTI’s best foot forward, but the ECP has delivered a stunningly disastrous performance. The shocking mismanagement of the process of counting votes and announcing results at the polling station has made it necessary that the entire ECP senior leadership resign after the election formalities are completed and a high-level inquiry be conducted at the earliest.

At this stage, it cannot be known if foul play, gross incompetence or a combination of both resulted in the unacceptable delay in the announcing of preliminary results on election night.

What is equally troubling are the allegations by virtually all major parties other than the PTI that polling agents were excluded from the counting process and that in many cases they were not provided the legally mandated statement of count in its official form.

It is perhaps to the credit of the opposition that the shocking violations of election protocols and norms have not already plunged the overall outcome of the election into doubt.

Surely, a decade of national, provincial and local government elections across the country and an ECP that is empowered, independent and resourced ought to have precluded the disturbing events and controversies surrounding what is the core function of the Election Commission at the heart of the electoral process in the country.

The defiance and blanket denials of ECP officials who have appeared before the media so far are also confounding. In a country where democratic institutions are weak and politics in yet another divisive phase, with the pre-poll phase blighted by controversies, allegations and militant violence, a transparent and fair polling process was absolutely necessary.

But after the reappearance of persistent voting-related problems during polling hours, the ECP presided over a historic bungling of the counting process and the announcement of results. There must be accountability for the fiasco.

The split screen of politics in the country at the moment — the PTI celebrating victory and the new opposition in a clamour over allegations of unfair practices — is perhaps unsurprising. The 2018 general election was already mired in controversy before the ECP’s failures on election night added to the confusion and uncertainty.

All sides must try and navigate the days and weeks ahead with common sense and caution. Imran Khan’s acceptance speech yesterday was an encouraging sign. Opposition parties should route their complaints and protests through official channels.

In the long term, the aim of all parties should be to strengthen parliamentary democracy through robust debate, with the opposition keeping a vigilant check on the government’s performance. State institutions ought to give the democratic process the space it needs to survive and thrive.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2018