Sanctity of ballot lost in the dark of February 8

By: Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri

We will never learn from history, perhaps. The midnight robbery on the night of February 8, wherein the verdict of the masses was once again stolen will surely prove to be detrimental to national interests in the long run. It has hurt the nation beyond repair. Those who had the audacity to do this never felt ashamed even after victimising, harassing and intimidating a wide section of political populace, who still feel like aligning themselves with the PTI vote bank despite all odds that came their way.

Apart from pre-poll institutional rigging like denial of symbol of ‘cricket bat’ to the most popular political party; disenfranchising by compelling them to contest as Independent candidates on a plethora of divergent symbols; obstructing their right to contest by disqualifying the candidature of many stalwarts; and, last but not least, suspending cellular and Internet services on the ballot day, the irony is that the massive vote cast in favour of PTI-backed Independent candidates was stolen. This is unbecoming even of any ‘managed democracy’, and is a blot on the system in vogue.

The least who should be held accountable is the Chief Election Commissioner. He must step down, and stand a trial for torpedoing the Constitution, and engineering the verdict of the electorate to serve vested interests of the few. He, and his machinery, arm-twisted the fundamental rights of the people by delaying elections for a year, and doing all they could to penalise a political party. Likewise, his shenanigans on the night of February 8 by obstructing the announcement of results have ruined his credibility beyond doubt. It’s high time, moreover, to disband the sitting Election Commission which has lost its writ. A better digital, secure and efficient way of conducting the elections must be discovered, as in vogue in many other pluralistic democracies.

The extraordinary turnout and landslide vote for the PTI-backed Independent candidates had also proved that they had braved all odds to stand tall and get noticed. It also established that the judicial review of the Supreme Court that disenfranchised them by snatching the electoral symbol had backfired. The vote has simply pronounced that the Honourable Chief Justice had misread the Constitution, as well as the nerve of the nation.

The nation had voted for resilience and stood fast with the manifesto of its incarcerated leader, Imran Khan. If democracy is any criterion, that massive show of support should have been acknowledged with a brave heart, and the decision of the masses upheld. But that was not the case, as the dark night of ‘engineering’ once again has pushed the nation towards another hung parliament.

The February 8 vote, and the prelude to it, has proved that Pakistanis are undeterred and have the foresight to make a choice. Similarly, the extensive reliance on social media, and the evolving tech-savvy culture, has set the ball rolling on the path of emancipation and building a ‘New Pakistan’. The nation awes for a liberal, democratic and law-abiding nation-state, and it is round the corner! To reenact a phrase from Star Wars, the Empire is losing power to technology and youth. Thus, the attempts to shut down the former and shut up the latter are proving to be counter-productive. These gimmicks will not stand in the long run, and the earlier the auto-correction is done, the better.

Pakistanis are prepared to make an impact in the 21st century, and they have a bright future ahead. Despite illiteracy slurs, they have learnt to value their right of adult franchise, and are rapidly shunning the prejudices of sect, tribalism and ethno-lingual constraints. This was unequivocally established as they cast their vote to 80 per cent new faces only by identifying with whom they rally. This is worth appreciating, and should not have been derailed in the darkness of February 8. Time for political parties to unite, at least once, for securing the sanctity of the ballot by putting their foot down.

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