Pakistan: Respect the mandate

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Published February 10, 2024  

DESPITE everything done to make these elections as controversial as possible, millions chose the ballot box this Thursday to make themselves heard.

In so doing, they demonstrated that public faith in Pakistan’s democratic political system endures and also that, if threatened, the people will jealously protect their right to self-govern.

Unfortunately, though the public’s decision was quite evident, some quarters still attempted to stamp their will over the election results. They should be warned that such meddling is no longer acceptable to the voting public, many of whom, if not most, have made their disapproval of its tactics amply clear.

We had seen state manipulation at work in the 2018 polls and earlier ones as well. However, this time, the political party that was targeted had almost everything taken from it.

From the pre-poll phase to election day irregularities to the post-poll counting process — the attempts to subvert the PTI were blatantly executed. The party’s leadership was jailed, its workers were picked up, its electoral symbol was denied through a contentious verdict, and even the independent candidates it backed were not allowed to campaign.

These machinations ultimately backfired: at the end of the day, as the votes for the independents showed, the people refused to be deterred by fear tactics. They chose the pariah party, proving wrong all so-called surveys fed to the media in the run-up to the polls. It seems the only thing the state was able to achieve through its persistent victimisation of the PTI was to turn it into a symbol of resistance for the people.

This paper frequently questioned the PTI’s decisions while it was in power and criticised it for its wrong actions. However, the treatment meted to the party in recent months has been patently unjust, and it is now evident that there is much anger against the establishment’s open and constant interference in civilian matters — interference which has only grown over the years because there has been no firm political consensus against it.

The powers that be should therefore drop their vendetta against the PTI forthwith. Some urgent corrective measures are also needed. Firstly, there should be no attempt to coerce any of the independent candidates, and the ECP must facilitate them in joining the party of their choice, even if it is the PTI.

Secondly, since no party has an absolute majority, whoever can cobble together an alliance should form the government. Nawaz Sharif may have delivered a victory speech, but forcing others to join a PML-N-led government will only precipitate a bigger crisis.

Lastly, the state must realise that, sometimes, a vote for the underdog is a vote against the establishment. Does it want an ‘election’ contest in the future where the people blame the state for their problems?

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2024