Pakistan: To Tackle Post-Election Challenges, The Voices Of The People Must Be Heard – OpEd


In democracies around the world, elections are the only tools and opportunity for the ruled to choose their rulers for a specific period. In Pakistan too, on February 8, Pakistan witnessed a historic moment—a day when democracy was tested, and the people’s will prevailed. Voters showed unprecedented courage despite all odds.

How did people respond to the election?

Despite repressions, crackdowns, and the denial of a fair poll and level-playing field to the public, the people have fought back with unprecedented strength through the power of their vote. They came out and turned the election into an unexpected democratic victory. The day of dignified, peaceful defiance against chronic forces of the status quo. An extraordinary show of public power — loud and clear — a verdict in favor of change stability and democracy.

Voters have condemned the outdated political system imposed on the them since beginning and rejected the compromised judiciary which, colluding with power, eroded public trust in the Constitution and fundamental rights. The voice of the vote has delivered a verdict against highly corrupt crony elites mostly landlords and capitalists, a sold-out media, and the role of bureaucracy as facilitator in the whole theatre. They buried the elite-centric policies of exploitation, division, ruin, and rule.

The public has also rejected self-proclaimed champions of democracy, old political dynasties, and architects of flawed, unrealistic aristocratic political economic, and social order imposed on them against their will. This is also a verdict against institutional outreach and kleptocratic practices perpetrated against the people for the last 76 years of our short history. The mandate of the people stands for change and yet the powers that be don’t want to respect the will of people for change.

The voices raised against the rigged elections 

Unfortunately, the overwhelming public mandate seems to have been rigged in favor of the old and new cronies so-called electable and traditional elite class. Here the black is white and white is black, therefore, the February 8th elections will not give positive results or produce a change in the behavior of ruling elites. Consequently, the voters who quietly turned out for change are losing their faith in democracy and parliamentary politics, specifically the four nationalist parties alliance including ANP in Balochistan province and ANP JUI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and GDA JUI in Sindh, which is detrimental for the whole system in a long way. 

The most unusual voice exposing the irregularities and rigging in the electoral process is the shocking disclosure of Rawalpindi Division Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha, he claims 13 NA candidates facing defeat were declared winners with a lead of 70,000 votes n Names CEC, CJP for their roles in vote rigging. He also accused the chief election commissioner and the chief justice of Pakistan for their roles in the rigging. Though he spoke half-truth, avoiding exposing the predators on whose orders and for whom he rigged.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, too in a very hasty and unwarranted way on National media denied the allegations. The election commission has denied the allegations of rigging leveled by Chatta and formed a committee to probe into the matter coupled with the interim chief minister, Punjab Mohsin Naqvi, has also taken notice of the commissioner’s allegations and ordered an “impartial probe” into allegations of manipulation of the election results. But no one is going to believe in these so-called probes ordered by various quarters.

Public response to the recent elections

Despite PPP PML-N MQM and PML-Q all political parties irrespective of the pro or anti-establishment have unambiguously rejected the electoral results and are in protest in all four federating units against the stealing of their mandate. They claim that their mandate has been given to the losers in place of billions of rupees. PKMAP chairmen Mehmood Khan Achakzai has told the audience that seventy billion rupees have been taken from both winners and loser contestants during and after the election in Balochistan only.

Most interestingly, Afzal Chan of PPP on a live Geo TV show stated that he was approached for payment of rupees 60 million to make him turn in his constituency.

I think, this time, the new ‘electable’ candidates mostly middle class are the ones who stood with the people of Pakistan. No backdoor deals or guarantees can withstand the sheer force of the Pakistani voter. They showed that they are not dumb or unaware — even if you snatch their votes and shut off their voices. This was a vote for the right to vote. Democracy has won by a landslide. Regardless of its acknowledgment of the mandate, the people have peacefully fought and won the game

The fair analysis of the elections dictates us that it is a collective voice and clear directive from the populace to all political factions, entrusting them with the responsibility to bury their pity differences, set aside their self-interests and bridge their divides, and address the chronic persistent economic and political challenges that have long been imposed by the small corrupt one percent elites upon the nation. The people have shown their strength and are knocking on the doors of the establishment to mend their traditional minds and ways of manipulating their mandate. How long can the establishment, judiciary and ECP ignore it?

Call of the military leadership. What are their responsibilities?

In a state of uncertainty and dark clouds looming around the country, Pakistan’s military leadership has called for unity and cessation of discord, division, and unrest. The assertion by the Army Chief, General Asim Munir, calling for the commencement of an era marked by peace and prosperity through the vehicle of these elections and wishing that the election 2024 bring in political and economic stability and prove to be the harbinger of peace and prosperity for the nation is well timely and thought out aspirations but those wishes will harbinger positive results on ground when the voices of disgruntled, disappointed, alienated peoples on roads calling for respect to their mandate are heard patiently and revisit the situation wholeheartedly.

Post-election challenges facing the country

Aftershocks of the election are becoming more dangerous and devastating. This is the fifth time in its political history, Pakistan finds itself stuck in a dead end after a general election. The first time the country came to this pass was after the December 1970 general election. The outcome of the vote triggered a critical crisis as the stakeholders reached a dead end, ultimately resulting in the country breaking up into two. Then again, the results from the March 1977 general election triggered a large-scale agitation carried out by PNA against alleged rigging in the polling, leading to the imposition of what turned out to be the country’s longest martial law by General Zia. The third time after the 2013 elections and the longest sit-in by PTI and Tahir Qaderi which ended after the APS tragedy. Fourth time after the 2018 election against the IK landslide victory which ended with his removal and installation of PDM government. Now it is the fifth time that the highly controversial election results have engulfed the country into political uncertainty.

The dust must be settled by those at the helm of power in the best interests of the people and country. As the country’s economic specialists predict a challenging fiscal landscape for Pakistan soon after the recent elections. The central bank report highlights a looming debt servicing predicament, with external debt obligations amounting to $24 billion due by June 2024. Institute of Peace has delineated a projection of $77.5 billion (equivalent to 40.41 trillion rupees) in external debt by the end of 2026, predominantly domestic, marking a 24. The country will face an 8.2 trillion rupees shortfall. This deficit implies Pakistan’s need to secure an additional 1.3 trillion rupees in borrowing. Inflation surged to 28.3 percent in January 2024, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) signaling an imperative need for substantial external financial support. Furthermore, the Ministry of Finance’s extensive report unveils that state-owned enterprises have suffered losses of 1.395 trillion rupees during the fiscal years 2021 and 2022. 

Moreover, Political unrest and widespread protests across the country may likely turn into a debacle that warrants immediate engagement rather than taking them for granted. The formation of central and provincial governments on an agreed formula by the PPP and PML-N cannot deliver rather will further increase the political uncertainty, and economic turmoil, deterring foreign investment due to the resultant instability and risk if the major political parties around the country are on strike, blocking the highways particularly Baluchistan province is cut off from the recent of the country since Election Day are not taken on board and they are not heard with patience and sincerity. Otherwise, the greatest risk posed by more political turmoil is that it can send a fragile economy into meltdown, with far-reaching consequences for the country’s future.

Furthermore, Terrorism and the surge in terrorist activities in the country particularly in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains a formidable challenge, with 750 attacks recorded last year, culminating in 1,524 fatalities—the highest death toll since 2007. These multifaceted challenges underscore the urgency for the incoming government to prioritize political stability, given that 23 million children are currently out of school and poverty rates stand at 40%. 

How to tackle those challenges?

Honestly speaking and keeping in mind our turmoiled past and recent history, democracy, and respect for people’s mandate is the only solution. The fundamental principle of democracy is the inviolability of the electoral procedure, guaranteeing that each vote holds significance and accurately represents the desires of the populace.

As the great political philosopher Juan Linz asserted democracy can never be consolidated until it becomes the only game in the town. This, he said, can only be achieved when (i) each power center actor accepts the legitimacy and supremacy of the system (ii) when citizens identify with the existing constitutional order, and (iii) when any change to the existing order can take place only through due process and within a binding constitutional framework.

Therefore, establishing a politically stable, cooperative, and inclusive government both at the central and provincial level with any traditional political engineering emerges as a critical need, capable of navigating the system through these highly charged and turbulent times in collaboration with various political entities irrespective of small and big. A government that can unite differing factions towards common goals is essential for overcoming multifaceted challenges facing the nation.

In history, several countries and nations have moved on from these beginnings of undemocratic, bad governance, corruption, and patronage to build a governance system and society built on justice, accountability, and order. 

Since we are a nation in a transitional phase, therefore, Pakistan’s most powerful institutions and individuals have a chance, and maybe the last, to course correct – Pakistan needs a wholesale series of changes, structural reforms- inclusiveness-end of adhocism. None of those changes will be possible if leaders of institutions and political parties continue to treat politics and governance like a zero-sum game.

The situation on the ground demands a collective effort both by the civil and military leadership to draft and implement a strategic roadmap for political stability and economic revitalization and enhancing the security landscape in the country, particularly in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Ensuring a stable inclusive organic and secure environment is paramount in the country coupled with normalcy in neighboring countries Iran, Afghanistan including India. With it, political stability and economic revival are possible. The time is now for concerted action to steer the country toward a prosperous, secure, and stable future.

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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