Election Bill 2017: Exposing our hypocrisy, instead of strengthening democracy
The twin sit-ins had trapped the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz between a rock and a hard place in 2014. They only had two choices in front of them: they could either ignore the protesters in the Red Zone, or they could obstruct them, both choices having the potential to create law and order disruptions. Ever since then, the demand for fair elections rose to a crescendo. As a result, a parliamentary committee was formed to deliberate on how the electoral process could be reformed in order to provide the masses with an opportunity to transparently exercise their right to vote.
The outcome of all the consultations was the Election Bill 2017 that was intended to strengthen the democratic system by weaving all the institutions together in a bid to avoid allegations of electoral rigging. Unfortunately, to the dismay of many political observers and a few politicians, the bill only served to expose our hypocrisy at the national level.
Even though it was ostensibly designed to uphold democratic values, the legislation turned out to serve only a single individual, with a clause that a disqualified legislator would be allowed to become the office-bearer of any political force.
In essence, democracy is not a slave to a single leader. Rather, it is supposed to come into effect to look out for joint strategies and devise ways to help people at large. In contrast, this legislation visibly offered a straw to the embattled former Premier Nawaz Sharif, who had been dethroned from public as well as political office after the Panama Papers episode winded up.
After bulldozing the democratic norms, the bill sailed through Senate amid uproar as many lawmakers remained absent. Those who voted in favour went against their party policy, an example of which was MQM’s Mian Ateeq’s endorsement.
But what should bother us all is the fact that the hypocrisy of our political elite now stands exposed. The same breed of political workers who supported Yousaf Raza Gillani’s ouster now changed their yardstick for Nawaz Sharif.
What exacerbates the situation is that presumably, no politician would utilize a disqualified individual for a role at any different level. The disqualification is like a ‘Once and for all’ process that makes an individual look to other departments to try his luck after leaving the parent one.
It’s like lost virginity, which can be mourned over but can never be regained, no matter how many cosmetic approaches you try.
But the now PML-N president, after being disqualified in the political battlefield was re-elected in the same field of mainstream politics, a clear indication of the fact that our political elite simply ignores rules when it comes to their boss.
What else can define hypocrisy better than this?
And this is not just restricted to the ruling party. The reality is that our political system is producing stooges at the second tier, who are either unable or unwilling to pitch tough questions in front of their bosses.
Another clause that exposed the hypocrisy was related to the stipulation regarding the finality of Prophethood. Just a few days ago, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif bragged that his party was more “liberal” than its quintessential rival Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
But as soon as they made an amendment in the sensitive clause that states that one who does not believe in the finality of Prophethood of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is not a Muslim, the Pandora’s Box was opened. A hullabaloo stirred up across the country, putting the government on the back foot.
One should not forget that religion is a hard nut to crack in Pakistan. We, in the majority, may not follow the teachings of Islam in our daily lives, but that does not stop us from calling upon the moral police if we are under the slightest suspicion of non-compliance with the fundamental principles of the religion.
The ‘liberal branded’ PML-N had to take back the amendment within less than 48 hours, yet another testament to national hypocrisy.
What adds insult to injury is the fact that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf whose entire election campaign revolved around the concept of “Tabdeeli” (change), was accused of having links with the Ahmedi community, deeming them unfit to rule the country, but the clause was promulgated by the same ‘liberal PML-N’.
A banner showing a photo of Younus Algohar, an official of Mehdi Foundation, and Imran Khan also went viral on social media, and was used by political rivals to goad ‘Pakistani Muslims’ into withdrawing their support for PTI.
In conclusion, it's not a matter of PML-N and PTI. However, it should be kept in mind that the state had already discussed the issue in the parliament during the Bhutto stint, and any attempt to switch it through a hotchpotch clause would further dent our credibility.
It's better not to air dirty laundry in the global space through the amendments. If one wants to re-deliberate the issue, a joint session of parliament should be convened and provisions made for rigorous debate.
Legislations are meant to strengthen the system, but whether the current bill has strengthened or weakened our democratic system remains a big question mark. What can be said for sure, though, is it has revealed our hypocrisy at the highest forum.
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