rigging (1)

Like it or not, this is more of a “Selection 2013” than the Election 2013. 

While election monitoring by Pakistan’s ‘vibrant’ media, various non-government organizations and multilateral actors are in full swing. A closer look at the election scene reveals how the business of rigging has been modernized.  At one hand, few parties are receiving direct threats from militant organizations and are being targeted in the worst possible ways. On the other, ‘invisible’ hands are at play to the advantage of a select few having a proven record of being ‘loyal’ to state policies (to put it mildly).

An environment has been created for the candidates and voters of certain parties to not come out and run their election campaigns or even participate in corner meetings – smaller, modest version of a big jalsa, which normally have been the mobilization tools for political parties. Starting from the most recent example, the kidnapping of Ali Haider Gillani, PPP candidate from PP-200 and son of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, the media’s partisanship becomes clear. The news of this horrific incidence was put at the tail end of news bulletins in an hour’s time. Social media namely facebook and twitter was abuzz with PTI supporters calling the incident a ‘drama’, while their own leaders condemned it. Employees of prominent media groups kept on calling it ‘as you sow so shall you reap’, as if Ali Haider Gillani or his father had grown the terrorism in this country. And here, I’m not even mentioning the way the media is portraying only certain parties by covering their campaign and ignoring the campaign rallies of others, especially the PPP.

This entire environment has been systematically created by invisible forces. Some facets of these forces, however, expose themselves by coming out in broad daylight. Spokesperson of proscribed militant organization Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has thrice released video messages warning voters of dire consequences if they come out to vote. These videos have also threatened the supporters of the PPP, MQM and ANP not to participate in election campaigns by these parties calling them ‘secular, atheist and representative of western democracy’. These threats were followed by a series of gory attacks on these parties especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi.

Leaving out this crude form of election rigging, it is intriguing that everyone watching the elections in Pakistan is conveniently missing more sophisticated forms of election manipulation. This started much earlier with the strange interpretations of the Articles 62 & 63 of the Constitution by a cleric allegedly sponsored by the establishment. It quickly morphed into the behavior of Returning Officers asking offensive questions from the candidates at the time of filing of the nomination papers. Still reporting to the Supreme Court, these ROs displayed a highly partisan conduct with candidates of certain parties.

A classic case of this partisanship and bias is evident in NA-225, Badin, Sindh. Total registered voters in this constituency are 320072. Voter turn out in 2008 was 42 percent. Just when Jamshed Dasti, another candidate from South Punjab, was being arrested for supposed ‘fake degrees’, (which he never submitted. His was a case of Islamic Madrassa degree with confusion of whether it is recognized or not), another candidate in NA-225 was permitted to contest elections for provincial seat.

Ali Bux Shah alias Pappu Shah, now contesting as PML(F) candidate from NA 225, has been a known loyalist to the establishment. Although, his colourful political career could win him seats only twice out of eight elections. As per official documents, he filed nomination papers for Local Bodies Elections in 2001 that got challenged on account of his matriculation certificate being fake. He went into appeal but then withdrew it, and was thus disqualified. In 2002 elections, the same Pappu Shah, whose Matriculation Certificate was declared fake by a court of law, submitted his Graduation Degree from some International University of America, London. These miracles only occur in Pakistan when you can graduate from college without even completing Matric! It is worth noting that two other members, Perveen Magsi and Israrullah Zehri, were disqualified for having similar degrees from the same university, which was not recognized by Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. Pappu Shah man is still contesting the elections without any objection from anywhere.

In the same constituency, Yasmeen Shah, who is wife of Pappu Shah and was a Senator with dubious education certificates, is running for the National Assembly seat from NA-225. Visit to her election office revealed that her election staff and supporters were preparing for a strong protest in case there was a change in polling stations from some points. On further questioning, it was discovered that many points in the constituency were declared as ‘sensitive areas’ by the district administration based on the apprehension of violence there. People wanted the location of those polling stations to be changed and get them moved to secure points where voters could cast their votes peacefully without any fear of violence. Yasmeen Shah’s supporters were not ready as they thought their position would be stronger in those locations.

After Yasmeen Shah’s election offices, I visited the chamber of District Returning Officer Badeen. It was beyond shocking to see him completely on the side of Yasmeen and Pappu Shah. Not only that was he defending the fake degree case of Pappu Shah, he termed the couple as ‘mazloom’ and expressed his firm resolve of not changing the location of any polling station. When asked what if violence erupts due to this unreasonable insistence, his response was astonishingly calm, “We will call Army’s Quick Response Force”. An Army Major, who had been there for previous three hours, kept sitting with him throughout this conversation.

Some invisible forces have completely hijacked the elections from the people of Pakistan through biased media, partisan judiciary, partial administration and above all, blood-thirsty terrorists. Like it or not, this is more of a “Selection 2013” than Election 2013. No one can help us if we can’t see an elephant in the room.