FOR the success and progress of democracy, free and fair elections are a prerequisite. After the 1970 elections in Pakistan, an internal crisis resulted in the secession of East Pakistan, because one of the major parties had issues with the rules of the game. Today, the opposition’s struggle to oust the government will not solve the problem unless the rules of the game are redefined and the players are ready to follow them to ensure fair play both on and off the field.

It is not just about the 2018 elections anyway. The fact is that, except the 1970 elections, all elections held in Pakistan were manipulated to some extent and, hence, failed to deliver true democracy. So, instead of working to remove the government, the opposition may pursue electoral reforms to ensure that future elections are not disputed. But, unfortunately, the current parliament will not be able to do the job, for the government and opposition in the National Assembly are at daggers drawn.

The best option at the moment seems the Bangladesh model. A similar situation in 2006 paralysed Bangladesh, killing at least 40 people. The establishment appointed a caretaker government for two years. A state of emergency was declared and a massive crackdown on corruption was launched.

Some 200,000 people were arrested under corruption charges. After cleaning the mess in two years, general elections were held. It was a military-controlled government which made extensive use of its power to stymie the chaos.

The government made it clear that it was there not only to arrange free and fair elections, but also to make sure that all aspects connected to it were reviewed properly. This meant major reforms in the electoral system, including the elimination of corrupt candidates from the process.

Since there is a need for electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections, which is not possible in three months, there is a need to form a caretaker government for at least two years in Pakistan. During this period the caretaker government should not only prepare a foolproof electoral system, but may also introduce a procedure to ensure that candidates with terrible track record are excluded from the electoral process.

This is indeed a herculean task and requires not only time but also expertise. There is no dearth of non-controversial, genuinely talented and honest individuals. Such a team can easily be hired for the job by the caretaker government.

In a verdict on June 6, 2013, the Supreme Court declared that “a caretaker government possesses limited powers and authority, particularly in view of the fact that when it is appointed, there is no National Assembly in place and thus the all important aspect of accountability is absent.”

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) in its March 2014 briefing paper rightly suggested: “Following the Supreme Court’s verdict and building on the recent improvements, Pakistan now has an opportunity to strengthen this institution further by defining the responsibilities and the authority of caretaker officials within the legal framework. This could be ensured either through legislative action and/or amending the constitution to set out the boundaries of caretaker government authority.”

The mounting pressure from the opposition at a time when the country faces multiple internal and external problems, including disputes with India and Afghanistan, unprecedented inflation, reduction in agricultural production and devaluation of rupee, has made things difficult for the government to function properly.

The inability of state institutions to reliably provide ways and means to resolve public grievances has encouraged opposition parties to even resort to violence which is a dangerous sign.

Khawaja Amer
Karachi

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021

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