Democracy damaged

Published February 28, 2024

THE legal controversies surrounding the elections refuse to abate. Another row has broken out over who has the lawful authority to summon the first sitting of the newly elected National Assembly.

President Arif Alvi has refused to exercise the prerogative till all reserved seats have been assigned, but NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has called a session on Thursday anyway to satisfy the constitutional deadline. It is unclear, however, whether the latter has any authority to do so, which may throw the legality and legitimacy of Thursday’s proceedings into question and trigger another court battle.

It appears that this fresh controversy could have been avoided had the ECP by now decided whether the Sunni Ittehad Council, which the majority of PTI-backed independents have joined, deserves its quota of reserved seats or not. The ECP was supposed to decide the matter in an open hearing yesterday but adjourned the proceedings again, leaving the matter hanging.

The issue at hand is not a unique case, and several past precedents have been cited that seem to support the SIC’s claim to its share of reserved seats for women and minorities. In any case, the power to decide the matter rests with the ECP. Why, then, is it allowing the controversy to linger?

From its complicity in the failure to hold timely elections for the KP and Punjab assemblies to its role in delaying the general elections over a controversy-ridden census, from its failure to ensure a free, fair and inclusive environment for electioneering to its flouting of myriad rules and laws governing the electoral process on election day and thereafter — the charge-sheet against the ECP has not stopped growing.

Have the country’s laws not been trampled upon enough? Does the foundation of the 16th National Assembly also need to be laid on a violation of constitutional process?

There were immense expectations attached to the democratic process over the past year, with millions hoping it would provide them a pathway to deliverance from the many crises afflicting the country. Instead, the nation witnessed once again how casually constitutional schematics can be subverted when the powerful decide to rob the public of its voice.

Meanwhile, the institution created and empowered to safeguard the country’s democratic framework either stood by and watched it be mutilated or became complicit in its weakening through its own disdain for the law. It must be asked: is there somewhere that the ECP and its backers intend to draw a line?

The majority of Pakistan’s population is young and impressionable. What they have seen over the past year cannot engender any hopes for a just and progressive society. Lasting damage has already been caused by the actions of a few. How long will they continue to be tolerated?

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2024

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