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Finally, the date: Elections on May 11

March 22, 2013

THE doomsayers have turned out to be wrong as the date for the general elections — May 11 — has been announced. In short, the system has survived. “Day of destiny dawns for democracy” was a headline in this newspaper way back in the 1960s on the day the people went to the polls. In fact, that “day of destiny” did not give democracy to Pakistan, neither did several elections held afterwards. Including the party-less polls held under Gen Ziaul Haq, Pakistan has had nine general elections in the last 43 years. Unfortunately, many of these were hardly held under democratic conditions even if numerically this is not a bad record. The fault lies in our inability to work democracy and forestall military interventions. Now, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, elected governments at the centre and in the provinces will hand over power to the next elected dispensations after having completed the full five-year term. Once again, in this case the system has proved the Cassandras wrong, for it has survived crises which would have been a nightmare even for stable democracies.

With Wednesday’s announcement by President Asif Ali Zardari the uncertainty has ended, and — as agreed by all sides — voters will elect the five assemblies on the same day. This hopefully means that before the Election Commission of Pakistan gears up for the electoral exercise across the country, the government and opposition will clinch a deal on a caretaker prime minister. The interim chief executive must, no doubt, be neutral, but it seems our politicians are attaching too much importance to what otherwise will be a toothless office. The delay has disappointed the people and highlighted the shocking lack of trust between the two mainstream political parties. The ECP, that is so far performing its duties well, has had to put its foot down where necessary — as in the case of the new nomination form — and has avoided getting bogged down in controversies. In this task, the ECP expects full cooperation from the state machinery, as laid down in the constitution. At the same time, the media should be a little more circumspect and refrain from airing strident views whose effect could make the election body unnecessarily controversial. Instead, the people need to be informed that May 11 is going to be a watershed in Pakistan’s quest for a stable democratic order and this “day of destiny” shouldn’t fall victim to futile or contrived controversies.