By Akhtar Malik
29 March 2013
In his public address in Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi on 17 March 2013 Dr. Tahir ul Qadri announced that his party Pakistan Awami Tehreek will not participate in the coming general elections. He vowed not only to boycott the elections but also to protest against it by arranging sit-ins (Dharnas) throughout Pakistan on the day of polling on 11 May 2013. The rationale for this decision as given by him is that no electoral reforms have been carried out, as was committed by the outgoing government to him earlier this year, to make the election process fair, free, just, impartial and clean from all corrupt practices. Dr. Tahir ul Qadri is of the opinion that nothing good can be expected from the existing unconstitutionally-structured Election Commission, which has not been empowered to introduce reforms and implement them. As per his view, the forthcoming elections are being held to protect the corrupt politicians who will be able to make their way to the parliament once again through these elections.
The stance of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri is correct and unambiguous. The way the Election Commission has framed new nomination papers and code of conduct, is nothing more than eyewash and will surely provide escape routes to the corrupt and inept candidates, who are otherwise ineligible to contest elections under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The components of this Election Commission are not geared to carry out meaningful scrutiny of candidates. It is only a revolutionary government installed with deliberate support of people that can carry out ruthless and across-the-board accountability. However the decision to boycott the elections, particularly asking the public to do the same, has its own demerits.
Dr. Tahir ul Qadri has worked very hard to inculcate awareness among people and educate them on provisions of the Constitution. Now even a common man is aware of the contents of Articles 62, 63, 218 and knows what the elected representatives are bound to deliver under Article 34 once they are elected to form the government. Now was the time for people to come out en-mass and fill the polling booths for casting their votes in favor of clean and honest candidates. Despite corrupt practices by the traditional politicians and Election Commission overlooking these violations, a very large turnout on the day of polling can make a pleasant difference. The silent majority which hitherto-fore had been abstaining from voting can play a very decisive role in electing the new faces and better candidates. On the other hand if a large population abstains from the electoral process there is danger that the corrupt political mafia will bring their cronies to the polling stations and become victorious even with a small turnout. The decision by a large number of followers of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri to “Vote for None” will therefore damage the clean and honest candidates and indirectly help the corrupt political mafia.
The decision to boycott the elections seems to be erroneous. The protest in the form of sit-ins (Dharnas) on the day of polling is therefore not likely to create a substantial impact. This may be seen in the backdrop of the fact that collective wisdom of the people of Pakistan has already decided in favor of bringing a change through the ballot. This is the reason why people have not protested en-mass on the streets against the PPP-led government despite the worst kind of sufferings during the 5-year tenure. They were seeing a silver lining in the elections to get rid of the government. They still have a hope in the coming elections, though they may stand disappointed at the end of the day. I am of the opinion that elections must be given a chance to change the destiny of the country. A better strategy of protesting against the corrupt electoral system by Dr. Tahir ul Qadri and his followers would be to turnout at the polling stations in largest possible numbers wearing black bands on the arms, and cast their votes for the change. The followers of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri are imbued with the spirit of change and would never like to vote in favor of the corrupt candidates. But if they are motivated by their leaders to vote for the catalysts of change they can act as a force multiplier. However the people of Pakistan reserve the right to protest against the election results if they prove to be rigged.
Akhtar Malik, a freelance writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org