It’s elections galore for the ECP – polls in April for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly elections, and in March for 33 of the National Assembly seats vacated by the PTI. With these timelines out, parties and the Election Commission must all be busy preparing for the coming polls. That would be the most logical conclusion but we are after all a country that thrives on rumours which somehow magically also come true many a time. The latest is a sustained rumour that efforts could be afoot to delay the elections. Adding to the complications is Pakistan’s first digital population and housing census that is all set to begin across the country from March 1. The census will continue for a month and conclude on April 1. The census and the eventual delimitation exercise could – say some political analysts – lead to a delay in the elections. But there are also others who think an even longer delay is possible – right up to March 2024.
The natural question that arises is: how can elections be postponed? And if they are, what sort of means would or could be used to do so? Regardless of the politics around it and how we got to this rather unenviable place in our history, the constitution is quite clear on when elections have to take place after assemblies complete their terms or are dissolved. Any government delaying an election sets a bad precedent. In fact, we seem to be suffering from a serious case of bad precedent the past few years, not least of which has been the way our political parties have chosen to place politics above the country, its people, and its future.
Instead of squabbling over election dates, what is important is that all political parties agree on some rules of the game for future politics. This seems to also be a growing concern among the civil society which has been asking all parties to immediately initiate a comprehensive dialogue regarding the weaknesses in the existing legal framework for elections in the country. And let’s not forget: electoral reforms are just one issue. That all parties in opposition are always fearful of political victimization speaks volumes about democracy in this country. Unless all political parties realize that this vicious cycle has to end, elections will do little more than just replace one set of faces with the other. Even now the new caretaker setup in Punjab has been rejected by the PTI and the ECP is continuously under attack by Khan and his party leadership. Under such circumstances, how will the election results be acceptable to any party that loses the elections?
Sadly, any kind of across-the-aisle camaraderie or even tolerance seems a distant possibility for now, what with Imran Khan’s latest accusation in which he has blamed Asif Zardari for planning an assassination attempt on him. As the country’s currency nosedives and the people brace themselves for impact, our bickering politicians may want to step back and realize just how tone-deaf they are now sounding – even to the most faithful supporter. Both sides need to realize that time is running out. What we need is a new and comprehensive charter of democracy. That won’t happen without acknowledging each other.