WHILE Pakistani politicians are sometimes selectively targeted, the task of strengthening a central pillar of democracy belongs to them and to no one else. It is in their hands to make the Election Commission of Pakistan functional again.
With the retirement of the chief election commissioner, retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza, on Thursday, the ECP has become non-functional. Many fundamental ECP activities stand suspended, among them the scrutiny of funding for political parties.
The situation is not helped by the fact that the ECP was already two members short of its mandated strength. The nomination of these two members had been a bone of contention between the treasury and opposition, and the government’s attempt at resolving the problem via a presidential order was thwarted by Mr Raza himself. He declared the presidential action illegal, thus casting serious doubts on the government’s motives; tensions that already existed between the two sides were exacerbated.
Since then, both the government and opposition have proposed individuals of their choice for the post of the ECP chairman as also for the Sindh and Balochistan vacancies.
The chief judge of the Islamabad High Court, while hearing a petition, has [expressed] confidence in the ability of parliament to resolve this problem. Yet concerns remain, not the least serious of which is caused by the dynastic nature of parties where all decisions have to be taken by one or two people at the top. It is far from an ideal state of affairs: one party supremo is expected to set the direction from his hospital bed, while the parliamentary opposition leader has to take time out from tending to his ailing leader and elder brother to scrutinise a long list of people who could, on merit, make it to the ECP. Also problematic is the acrimonious attitude of the ruling party whose chief is trained to view all opponents as worthless and corrupt.
This is by no means an easy affair.
Picking an ECP chairman and two commission members requires negotiating skills of the highest order. It is all the more difficult to build consensus in a country polarised along so many lines.
Parallel to the intra-politicians fight, there is an ongoing battle where the politicians as an interest group are pitted against those who condemn them en masse as useless, selfish individuals who are unable to overcome their differences, ranging from petty considerations to matters of ideology.
The politicians as a whole seeking vindication of their role have to close ranks to prove that their journey on the path to true, unhindered democracy has not been without dividends.
They must jointly and with the requisite dignity resolve this issue of ECP membership without further delay. The fights amongst themselves can wait for another day.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019