Election season

Published November 6, 2023

THE promise that democracy will be restored soon is a breath of fresh air in this current atmosphere of doom and gloom. After a rough start, the election machinery has started to click into gear.

The chief justice’s stern warning to the media, telling it to desist from airing any further speculation on the timing of elections, has signalled to other stakeholders that there may be a finality to the Feb 8, 2024 date that can be banked on.

It is encouraging to note that the PTI, PML-N and PPP — the three largest ’political parties in the country — have all welcomed the announcement and seem eager to begin the contest. Right now, their attention should be focused on the upcoming electoral exercise rather than anything else. There is not a lot of time for them to regroup and launch effective campaigns.

Now that the country is in election mode, the ECP should expect increased scrutiny of its actions. The immense task of ensuring that the upcoming elections are free, fair, impartial and inclusive rests on its shoulders, and it needs to do much better if it wishes to be remembered for discharging its duty responsibly.

There are several things that need immediate attention. For instance, the caretaker government is reportedly attempting to undertake a large-scale reshuffle of officers at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting despite the announcement of an election date.

All such tinkering with the executive branch must be stopped forthwith. The state must be oriented towards one thing alone: assisting the ECP in delivering a credible election. Everything else is unnecessary at this point in time.

Secondly, the ECP must start utilising its considerable powers to ensure that the contest will be fair. The arrest of former National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on corruption charges the day after elections were announced is not a good omen.

The public perception is that the PTI and its people will continue to be harassed with arbitrary detentions and arrests on trumped-up charges for as long as they refuse to toe the establishment’s line. There is little justification, legal or moral, for a political party to be treated in this manner, and it is up to the ECP to put a stop to the victimisation.

Other parties have also been complaining about being denied a level playing field. They have accused the caretaker governments and other powerful forces of manipulating the state machinery to favour the PML-N.

There is no point in asking the electorate to vote if a handful of people are going to overrule their choices anyway. The Pakistani people must not be denied the right to choose their future themselves. The ECP should be wary of these sentiments and demonstrate it is working to counter them.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2023

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