Peace during elections?
29 March, 2013
By Azam Khalil
"Let all things be done decently and in order."
As expected, the burden to nominate caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab had been shifted to PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif. This has once again highlighted the extreme polarisation that exists in our political culture.
When the PML-N expressed serious reservations over the PPP nominated candidate, Shaukat Basra, it was evident that both parties would pursue a hard line, making it extremely difficult for them to reach a consensus on the matter.
It would have been better if the leaders of the house and the opposition in the Punjab Assembly themselves had succeeded in nominating the caretaker Chief Minister. Unfortunately, they failed to do so, thus indicating little chance of the Parliamentary Committee's to succeed too. However, Nawaz Sharif's intervention, though quite late, helped resolve the issue and Najam Sethi was appointed as the caretaker Chief Minister Punjab.
Having said that, the next most important challenge confronting not just Punjab, but all other provinces in Pakistan is: will it be possible to hold impartial elections in a peaceful environment? Apparently, the law enforcement agencies, it seems, are not well prepared to handle the situation, which leads to the fact that the coming elections may be a bloody affair.
It is not merely the rivalry between different political parties and their candidates that will boil over, but the role of those who seem determined to create conditions to derail democracy. While the security agencies are planning to ensure that the electoral process remains peaceful, there are signs that undemocratic forces may succeed in case things tend to go out of hand. Thus, it is important that they take preventive measures to stop any mischief in its tracks.
Besides the law enforcement agencies, it is hoped that political parties will promote tolerance ahead of the polls and educate their workers about the peaceful and orderly transition of power. It must be remembered that the people's will must prevail and no excuse, however strong, should be accepted that may result in an early demise of democracy.
Add to this, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief Akhtar Mengal's return from Dubai to participate in the elections is a positive sign. It would be in the fitness of things if the federal and provincial caretakers encourage such politicians, who are the true representatives of people.
They also need to send out a loud and clear message that unruly conduct will not be tolerated during the elections and those found guilty will be punished severely. However, some political analysts believe that they have been slow on this issue.
More so, they failed to move swiftly to have the highly politicised civil bureaucracy replaced from their current positions. In case this is not done, the whole exercise of conducting free and fair elections would remain an illusion.
None of the caretakers have so far announced their cabinets that will take care of the day-to-day work in the areas of their jurisdiction. Also, reportedly, the newly-inducted caretakers have shown no keenness to attend the briefing sessions arranged for them by senior bureaucrats.
Sethi's nomination as PPP and PML-Q candidate in Punjab, however, will have many detractors, as he was a close friend of ex-President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari - a man disliked by many PPP jiyalas. This has, indeed, surprised many, especially those who believed that he was backed by the establishment and, therefore, ineligible as caretaker Chief Minister Punjab. But generally with a limited mandate that the caretakers enjoy, it is not possible for them to influence the election outcome in a significant manner.
Hopefully, the interim governments will succeed in maintaining peace in the country. Otherwise, all their good intentions and efforts will go in vain, while the dream of conducting transparent elections will remain elusive.
The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.