Politics is a funny business in which fortunes change imperceptibly though the signs keep on emerging. The upset experienced by the ruling dispensation in failing to get the sitting financial adviser elected to the Senate is another substantial sign of the change in winds. It is interesting to observe that the defeat of Dr. Hafeez Shaikh, who represented the policies of IMF, was not considered feasible by many apparently sane circled. Keeping in view the presence of dual authority in the country, any political change takes time to mature and is essentially cumbersome in nature. The coercive hand of the hidden forces is always there to frighten perpetrators of democratic change and the propaganda onslaught is never-ending incessantly vilifying attempts to bring pluralism in the polity.
In this case, the signs of change started emerging from PDMs gathering in Lahore but the election in Daska proved to be milestone that qualitatively brought to fore the convoluted perception of arbitrary forces that feel no compunction in pummeling the entire democratic process directly showing their extreme dislike for fair governance. Daska was the sign that the pluralistic forces are not only willing to take their case to the people but also have shown their resolve to protect their vote. This is the glimmer of change in perceptions and attitudes that may provide people with a chance to fight for their rights.
Quite surprisingly the most-maligned as spineless, the Election Commission, ultimately rose to the occasion and stringently inquired about the administrative arrangements carried out in Daska for elections. It felt no compunction in charge-sheeting election presiding officers and asking for removal of key police and administration officials along with summoning in person the IG police and chief secretary of Punjab. This prompt action restored the writ of the Election Commission and brought to book the illegal practices carried out during the election. The extensive media coverage made the election in Daska the most-watched, most-monitored, most-scrutinised, most-policed and most-at-stake election in recent memory. The intense controversy and protracted media coverage has already made stars of the two contestants with Ali Asjad Malhi of PTI hogging the news channels. The example of stern vigilance exercised in Daska can deliver the dividends for a disputed electoral system.
Daska caused a national shock reminding people of the ambitious power-grabbers running away with anything they lay their hands on. The heavy hand of the administration exposed the electoral gerrymandering and the people realised that the PTI was no different although it swept to power by the dint of its anti-rigging crusade. But the people witnessed the otherwise hapless Buzdar-led administration getting directly involved in ensuring that everything went right. Interestingly, everyone expected the election commission to take things lying down as has been witnessed since the last many elections yet it acted uncharacteristically surprising everyone and making Daska a memorable turning point. Instead of allowing a partial redressal by allowing polls in some constituencies, the ECP asked for the heavy roller and declared the whole exercise null and void.
Daska has amply demonstrated the depth of electoral manipulation in Pakistani electoral system this time defied all past behaviours. Daska has emphatically brought to the fore the fact that systemic reform is the order of the day and that too essential, basic, fundamental reform that can enable it to make the electoral process look credible. Only the Election Commission may not be able to repair things as the problem is deep and would require the unqualified support of the parliament itself. What is required is consensus legislation to restore the fundamentals of a free and fair election worked out simply because if it is not done then every election will run the risk of turning into a Daska and generating an instant crisis.
Daska has a strong and decisive message that if someone tampers with the electoral process then there will be consequences. It should however be borne in mind that such tough reaction to irregularities should not prove to be one-off but should be sustained in content and application. Daska has taught the lesson that if sustained efforts are made then even a broken system such as existing in the country can be repaired.
It augurs well that the Election Commission has announced fresh polls for Daska NA seat and it has not fallen for half measures. While taking amelioratory measures, Daska election should be made a test case and substantial steps should be taken to ensure the fairness of the electoral process. This care should be considered as the first line of defence as it should be kept in view that the electoral system is the first target of the arbitrary forces when they launch an assault on democracy. Vigilance is the ultimate price of retaining freedom of democratic choice available in a polity and it is required to be paid. TW