How important are the elections?

Pakistan will draw immense strength if its elections are free of interference from outside, inside forces.

With less than a month left for elections and a firm date of 8 Feb 2024 endorsed by the Supreme Court, certain members of the Senate passed a resolution seeking its postponement, for reasons best known to them. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman too would like to get the date changed apparently to save people of his constituency from voting during the peak of winters. These are pointers toward the indifferent attitude of certain politicians towards democracy, not realising how they are undermining it, apart from how the country suffers in multiple ways when it has an unrepresentative government. Pakistan will draw immense strength if its elections are free of interference from outside and inside forces or institutions. It helps in improving the investment climate and there is general air of satisfaction among the populace. It will gain respect and credibility in its dealings with other countries. The unfortunate aspect is that we do not seem to learn and it’s doubtful if the coming elections will not involve meddling pre- and post-poll.

We are already witnessing serious attempts of demolishing of PTI and in particular Imran Khan and his party’s heavy weights through disqualifications, arrests and mishandling. As a consequence, the elections will be an eyewash and a foregone win for PML-N and its coalition partners. It is ironic that the leader that once was an ardent promoter of fair polls has happily reconciled to institutional interference, as it goes in his party’s favour. It is in the vital interest of the state to uphold and support adherence to political correctness and sanctity of voter’s choice. Any deliberate deviation and a failure to guard people’s interests and preferences make a mockery of elections. Holding people captive and diverting their votes has to be avoided. The elections provide a valuable opportunity to change course and set the trend for a responsible leadership. Our masses yearn for freedom and expect that the government would uphold the values for which the country was created.

Interestingly, 2024 seems to be the year of elections in several countries. India will be having its parliamentary elections and the US will be having its presidential vote. Other countries with large populations — Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh — are also having their elections. It is encouraging that these countries that have a history of military rule and dictatorship have graduated to democracy, notwithstanding its flaws that may take a few more years to rectify. Interestingly, Indonesia and Bangladesh have managed to curb the influence of the military but the civilian leadership, especially in Bangladesh, seems to give little space to the opposition. PM Hasina Wajid has literary turned the country to a one-party rule with opposition leader Mohammed Younus and several others languishing in jail. In Pakistan, the military continues to influence politics with the result that the institutions of parliament and party’s leadership do not enjoy full freedom to exercise their options freely. The PTI remains under pressure with its leader Imran Khan and its several top leaders in jail and facing innumerable charges. It is not that some of them have committed offences and deserve to be dealt with firmly in accordance with the laws of the country, but initiating legal cases on a selective basis and treating them beyond legal and civilised norms backfires and harms the country’s image and reputation which has consequences. Unfortunately, with the major democracies — India and even the US — failing to uphold democratic values, the world seems to be in a retreat from democratic culture.

Another important aspect that seldom finds any space in our national discourse is the rapidity with which technology is changing and influencing several aspects of human behaviour. Whereas we, caught in the same bind of petty politics, are unable to comprehend that the battle of supremacy now rests with how nations adapt to these technological changes. The geopolitics, security and economic progress depend on how well prepared a country is to keep pace with these technologies. The foundation for all this is education and quality education. But when 26% of the population is unable to read or write and the remaining mostly attending schools, colleges or universities that are place low on global ranking, the future seems gloomy and is a sad reflection on our past and present leadership.

We are at a critical juncture in our national life wherein the leadership has to actively encourage promotion of commerce, set up of industries that will reduce the burden of imports, have the potential to increase exports and promote entrepreneurship. We are seriously lagging behind in all these by either having such policies that discouraged investments or being indifferent towards industrialisation. Similarly, in the field of agriculture our productivity is low due to inadequate soil and water management and other factors such as inferior quality of seeds.

Another subject that should find space in pre-election discourse is how and when Pakistan is going to seriously start transition to clean energy. In order to be competitive and to preserve the environment it is necessary that we switch over to clean energy. Moreover, clean energy as was the case with information technology would play a major role in making our industry and products competitive.

To achieve all these objectives, we need a peaceful environment. Pakistan continues to face the threat of TTP, which will have to be taken seriously, as militants continue to spread their influence in the sensitive and neglected region of former FATA. Military operation, combined with development of the area and improvement in the quality of life there, is in the vital interest of the local people as it is of Pakistan.

This brings me to remind the readers that we have lagged behind even by South Asian standards to a level which should shake our national conscience. And a disconcerting aspect is lack of insensitivity to our plight, whereas in reality nothing prevents us from keeping pace with the rapidly changing world.

The forthcoming elections open an opportunity for us not to vote for those candidates who are merely interested in perpetuating their family hold but whose priorities are commensurate with national progress and committed to the betterment of the people. On the contrary what we are seeing is that policies that are in vogue hardly contribute towards easing pressure. Self-interest is a natural urge and a motivating factor but it needs to be closely synergised with larger national interests.

Read more