Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Postponement of bye elections

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

Postponement of bye elections

On Monday all of a sudden the election commission announced the postponement of bye-elections surprising everyone. It cited the worsening law and order situation and national budget as the reasons for this step. This announcement caused a lot of hue and cry and many segments of the society criticized it trying to figure out the real reasons behind it because the stated reasons weren’t convincing enough. PPP and its government criticized it, as did the PML(N) and the ANP. Interestingly the presidential spokesman also clarified that they had nothing to do with it. The wild guessing game was going on mostly blaming the President house until the NWFP Chief Minister put the record straight. He alleged that the PPP govt’s anterior minister, Rehman Malik asked him to send a formal request for postponement of the bye-elections as all the other provinces had done so. This statement has not been denied so we can safely assume all this fiasco was perpetrated by the unelected member of the PPP government, Mr. Rehman Malik.

Why would he do this? Would he do it independently without the consent of the party higher ups? Seems unlikely but possible. Mr. Zardari, Sherry Rehman and the PM criticized it suggesting that they were not involved. Zardari’s sister had resigned from an elected post to contest further clearing him. In this puzzling situation we might like to try the time-tested method of determining the beneficiaries to ascertain the responsibility. Knowledgeable people would find it hard to believe that our election commission has really become independent enough to take such steps without support from certain powerful quarters. Then who was responsible for this fiasco? Let us try to find.

The greatest beneficiary of this postponement appears to be the President because of many reasons. The first being most apparent, to deny his rivals entry into the elected assemblies and government posts. Shehbaz Sharif, Aitzaz Ahsan and Imran Khan were contesting them and Shehbaz was the expected CM of Punjab, the biggest province. And then lets not forget Musharraf had promised his supporters that he would turn the tables in six months and the new date of bye-elections was exactly six months after the February elections. During this time he could blame the new govt for price hike and many other failures improving the electoral prospects of his supporters. The recent aggressive posture of the Q League attacking the coalition govt supports this argument. Some see it as the beginning of Musharraf striking back as promised. Then the biggest priceless benefit of the presidential camp could be the rift it might create in the ruling coalition. Recent presidential remarks appreciating the utility of the perpetuator further strengthens this argument.

The main loser of this fiasco was the ruling coalition. It appears to be unable to manage anything creating chaos in the country. The PM is unaware of what his cabinet is doing and the party leader unaware of the actions of the PM. The coalition also had to undergo substantial stress, as parts of the government seemed to be working for the President clandestinely. Then there was the biggest loser of all, the most pathetic and helpless entity in Pakistan, its constitution.

The constitution clearly states that the seats of elected assemblies must be filled within 60 days but the bye-elections were postponed twice negating its instructions. A govt servant again disregarded the constitution of Pakistan. Now the bye-elections were proposed 6 months after the original elections and 9 months after the dissolution. The nation ignored it the first time but responded the second time but not for the sanctity of the constitution but immediate political considerations.

All crimes start with apparently benign looking deviations to the rule of law and must be checked at this stage. Later they grow accumulating proportions becoming more and more difficult to manage. We have not been able to impart the respect to our constitution it deserves. We have allowed the dictators treat it contemptuously enabling Gen Zia to call it a piece of paper, paradoxically this was the only time that he was truthful. We have paid a very heavy price for this weakness and must stop it. We must protect our constitution at all levels because it forms the base of our nation hood protecting us from many blemishes and blushes.

Whenever the democrats deal with the military dictators secretly they are always the losers. In 1988 BB did that keeping the foreign and finance ministers of the establishment but could not last more than 16 months. She was the only PM in our history to increase the defense budget by 50%, something Zia couldn’t dare to, but was still booted out with contempt. Actually the military dictators use politicians as scapegoats for their failures. They are brought after the foreign aids dry up and time to repay them arises and unpopular steps are inevitable. In these circumstances they are destined to fail which gives the dictators another excuse to malign the politicians and pack up the system. In September 1996, 2 months before the dissolution of her government, BB was pressurized into introducing new taxes worth 40 Billion ensuring the PPPs terrible performance in the 1997 polls. So we see the military dictators are impossible to please and sworn enemies of the political parties and politicians. The politicians can’t win here and must avoid such self-destructory practices for temporary fake gains.

The new PPP government has inducted 2 ex bureaucrats in its cabinet who were instrumental in bringing bad name to their previous regimes causing much discontent in the rank and file of the party. They appear in all the scandals, rightly or wrongly, of those times and apparently have no special skills qualifying them to be preferred over the dedicated stalwarts. The bureaucrats of dubious reputation don’t associate with political parties out of convictions but convenience. If their conveniences were better served by the President they wouldn’t mind switching sides and this is exactly what appears to be the case. Rehman Malik really helped Musharraf by defaming the coalition and creating suspicion within the partners. In return he got acknowledgement of his utility from the President, something he apparently values.

What we need in Pakistan is a govt of laws, and not of men and the mother of all laws is the constitution. We must start treating it as sacred and guard it very very carefully not allowing anyone to desecrate or bypass it. Wherever law ends tyranny begins and to avoid the terrible affects of tyranny we must protect our laws and the legal system. The civil society and the politicians can never beat the military dictators in their game of intrigues and backdoor dealings so must avoid it. The only way out is to make the civil society prevail over the dictators and only our constitution can ensure this. Let us protect our constitution conferring it the status it deserves. Our lives and the future can only be protected by our constitution that needs our protection desperately. Otherwise we should get ready for more embarrassments and troubles the future “reluctant” military takeover can cause.

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