Utterly mismanaged and furiously contested local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have brought the PTI chief Imran Khan both name and shame: his party has retained its vote bank but his incessant imputation on others of rigging sounds hollow.
As figures pour in nearly a score of people have been killed and many more injured, often at the hands of those who lost at the polling booths. Quite strangely, while electoral campaigns were peaceful the day of polling gripped unprecedented heat, and all that could go wrong in terms of holding fair and transparent elections went wrong.
Since the local bodies’ elections have the ambience of face-to-face democracy, unlike the provincial and national assemblies’ elections where voters have relatively limited knowledge about the candidates’ credentials, the stakes are always very high. It is quite apparent that the KP government has miserably failed to rise above its political ambitions and provide the required wherewithal for peaceful polling.
The PTI chief may blame anybody, as he would often do, but he must accept that pious hopes hardly make safe landings. Of course, it is not a stellar electoral win for the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf, but it has to be accepted that it won the highest number of seats. To say the KP local bodies elections were not rigged the PTI leadership would need a refresher in jugglery.
And then there are these Independents, who stand second on the score board. Securing maximum control at the local government level maximum number of district governments in the province without their support – you know how much an Independent costs – would be yet another challenge for the PTI leadership.
With rival political parties in control of some district councils, which cannot be ruled out, for the PTI sandwiched between the federal government and hostile district governments in some districts may well be an upcoming scenario, governance won’t be a bed of roses.
But having said that, it must be accepted that even though exceedingly blood-stained, the local bodies elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are a huge step towards, deepening the roots of democracy in Pakistan. Of course, we have had democratically-elected governments for many years now, but their delivery at the grassroots level was only nominal. Once elected the members of the national and provincial assemblies would disappear and would return to their voters at the next election.
In the absence of this third tier of government they would pocket budget allocations for the local bodies and use it the way they would like. And how ironic it that leaders who become rulers courtesy democratic elections remained in denial for local governments – even at the cost of violating the Constitution. But for the Supreme Court’s final deadline to hold local bodies’ elections they would have stayed in that state of denial.
Now that local bodies elections are a reality and can neither be denied nor delayed we expect of the remaining provinces, Punjab and Sindh, to exercise due vigilance in order to ensure these are violence-free. It is so very easy to accuse the Election Commission of Pakistan of doing everything that goes wrong with the electoral process. But that is hypocritical, for the violence on the day of election and then at celebratory rallies is essentially the product of political parties. To organise elections at 11,000 polling stations contested by some 100,000 candidates in KP that is a rich mosaic of inaccessible tough terrain was no mean achievement of the Election Commission of Pakistan. The one wants removal of all four provincial election commissioners but not the Chief Election Commissioner, owes an explanation as to what stopped him from putting in place the needed security at the polling stations, and whose activists were baying for the blood of Mian Iftikhar Hussain.
That the local bodies elections in KP were grossly mismanaged is a verdict announced by FAFEN, a non-governmental organisation committed to help free and fair elections. According to it, the KP government is guilty of ‘severe mismanagement, irregularities and rigging’. It also says that women voters were ‘deprived of their right to vote at 15 polling stations’. Is it true that the main beneficiary of these san-women polls is the PTI’s coalition?
Ideally, these elections should have been staggered and held in three or four phases, and the ballot papers made simpler. But, all in all democracy has knocked at the door of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, albeit rather violently.
The Text has been appeared in the Editorial of Business Recorder today !