NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 13

Delaying elections: History of opportunistic politics

As governors of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab provinces have failed to fulfill their constitutional responsibility of giving a final date for holding elections within 90 days, as provided by the Constitution, the political crisis in the country has aggravated.

More importantly, the constitutional order in the country has nearly broken down as offices, like governors, are openly violating the Constitution themselves. On the other hand, the 13-party ruling alliance, which has its governors in Punjab and KP and now also has its proposed chief ministers in the two provinces, has resorted to gross human rights violations against opposition parties. In this situation, all eyes are on the supreme judiciary of the country, which in the constitutional scheme of things is the custodian of law. One has full faith in the supreme judiciary of Pakistan that it would defend the Constitution by all means. However, the problem is that every conceivable hurdle is being created by the ruling junta in the way of the supreme judiciary to safeguard the Constitution. So, it remains to be seen what happens.

Pakistan as a country has a chequered political history with at least four military rulers imposing martial laws for long periods of time. Pakistan has also a distinctive record of having a civilian chief martial law administrator (CCMLA) in the person of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto soon after the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. However, generally politicians have waged movements and struggles for the restoration of democracy and constitutional order during the martial laws of Gen. Ayub, Gen. Yahya, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Musharraf. But every time when the military dictators weakened and became extremely unpopular, they gave up. However, the incoming civilian leaders, who were partially elected, resorted to draconian tactics and large-scale financial corruption to entrench their power base, and sustain, make their financial fortune.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto started with establishing the Federal Security Force (FSF) to intimidate his political rivals and shield himself and the party. His intimidation and draconian repression of political opponents was so ruthless that all opposition parties got united and launched the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement in 1977, whose main aim was the removal of the Bhutto regime. On his part, Bhutto held national elections in 1977, one year ahead of his five-year tenure. The aim was to rig elections and preserve power for another five years. Although the effort failed and Gen. Zia imposed martial law with the promise to hold elections in 90 days, which were never held and the general went on to rule the country for 11 long years. In the meanwhile, Bhutto was hanged by Gen. Zia in a murder case in 1979 in which the Supreme Court of Pakistan sentenced him to the capital punishment. The PPP has been terming Bhutto’s hanging on the order of the SC a “judicial murder.” Ironically, the PPP and Bhutto’s opposition, which formed the PNA for the removal of his rule, ganged up against Gen. Zia’s rule and launched the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Gen. Zia, under pressure from the MRD and also in search of legitimacy for his rule, first held a fully-rigged referendum to elect himself as President and then in 1985 held party-less or non-party elections. Most leaders of political parties chose not to contest the 1985 election. Resultantly, a new government under Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, indubitably handpicked by Gen. Zia, came to the limelight. However, he proved to be the most democratic and clean prime minister of the post-1970 era. However, the traditional lot of politicians opposed him and Gen. Zia also got so frightened of PM Junejo that he sacked him. In fact, Junejo had unequivocally asked the former to lift the emergency and doff his military uniform. After Junejo’s sacking within months, Gen. Zia along with most of the top military leadership was killed in a plane crash in Bahawalpur on 17 August 1988.

Consequently, the entire traditional lot of politicians participated in the October 1988 elections in which the PPP narrowly won but nine parties created the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), National People’s Party (NPP) and opposed the PPP tooth and nail. Thus started a long unending winding history of political instability, financial corruption and poor governance during which the PPP and PML-N formed four national governments, three apiece and the current one as an alliance. In the meanwhile, Gen. Musharraf also ruled along with his Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ruled for three years and eight months.

What one learns from the brief description of Pakistan’s post-1970 political history and its relevance to the current crisis is that most of so-called politicians have been struggling for the restoration of democracy and removal of martial laws as well as the replacement of an elected government (in case of the PPP in 1990 and 1996, the PML-N in 1993 and 1999 and the PTI in 2022) not for national or public interest but to acquire power for personal aggrandizement. For this, political leaders joined hands in total mockery of moral values with their arch-rivals and more importantly the establishment to return or get power. During the entire process the Constitution of Pakistan has been lacerated beyond repair, claims to the contrary notwithstanding of restoring it to its original shape by parties like the PPP, ANP, PML-N etc. The most obvious example of politicians vying for their personal power and perks through state power is the current ruling alliance, which brought down the government of former PM Imran Khan in April 2022 in order to put an end to “people’s sufferings” due to alleged poor governance because of which the country was no more able to run. What one has seen over the years is that instead of serving the masses the ruling alliance has taken every conceivable step to regain power and perks and intimidate and repress the PTI and the PML-Q.

The present antics by the ruling alliance to delay elections in Punjab and KP is going to give a final blow to the political order. Even if the judiciary meddles in and orders the ruling alliance and the powers-that-be to stick to the Constitution, its violation has been so repeated and gross that holding elections in time would not restore political normalcy in the country. What Pakistan needs is a new social contract to come out of a profound and extensive state-society conflict and crisis.