Uneven poll field

Published November 25, 2023

WHEN state functionaries are tasked with ensuring that all political actors have equal opportunities in the upcoming electoral exercise, why does it appear that obstacles are being created for one political party in particular? At the very least, this was reflected in the ECP’s directions to the PTI regarding the latter’s intra-party polls.

On Thursday, the ECP annulled the PTI’s intra-party elections held last year, claiming that these were “highly objectionable/disputed”, while giving the former ruling party 20 days to conduct fresh polls, or risk losing its ‘bat’ election symbol.

The party has cried foul over the ruling, claiming it is part of the ‘minus-Imran’ campaign that seeks to sever the PTI’s links with its head and the country’s former prime minister.

Intra-party democracy is indeed vital if political parties are to run the country as per a democratic ethos. Yet it is clear that apart from a few exceptions, internal elections in most mainstream parties of Pakistan are something of a joke. For the most part, members of the party’s ruling family are ‘re-elected’ unopposed to top posts — who in their right mind would oppose them? — or internal polls are conducted on paper.

We do not know the exact mechanism of the PTI’s internal polls last year, but it does seem odd that the ECP has chosen to single out the party on this count, that too a year and a half after the fact. Therefore, the party’s plaints that conspiracies are afoot to cancel it are not without merit.

Moreover, when the party is not even allowed to hold corner meetings, can the ECP guarantee it will be able to freely conduct intra-party polls, without its candidates and voters being hauled away?

The arrests and alleged torture of PTI activists and leaders continue; the latest high-profile party member to have been released by court, and then farcically rearrested, has been former National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser.

The PPP has also complained numerous times about the lack of a level playing field. If these shenanigans continue and the caretakers and ECP fail to create a genuinely fair atmosphere where all parties can campaign freely, the 2024 elections, like others before it, will be shrouded in doubt and questionable legitimacy, prolonging the political and constitutional crises Pakistan has been confronting for the last several years.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2023

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