Pakistan since its inception has frequently suffered political instability, which has delayed and sidelined institutionalization of the political organs and by large afflicted a dire setback in developmental terms. No country can be called fully democratic if it lacks a transparent procedure of electing representatives and holding them accountable to all the stakeholders including the masses. In this regard, the election is the primary and basic way of establishing a truly representative government. No nation can carry the burden of a flawed and unfair procedure of electing the representatives to the legislature as it results in corruption, malpractices, and other evils. The insincere and inept leadership once steps into the parliament the country suffers innumerable maladies resulting in the death of democracy or at least the political ideology finds itself stifling and suffocating in such an environment.
Notwithstanding, Pakistan’s first general elections took place in 1970, after 23 years of the independence of the country. During the period the state was run by the representatives elected at provincial elections, Martial Law and even basic democracies played the sort of role. There was never a direct representative government of the people. However, after the abrogation of the 1962 constitution, General Yahya pledged for the ever first general elections. 1970 elections were the only less rigged and comparatively more transparent elections in the history of the country; however, it entailed an unfortunate debacle of the country. The subsequent political instability saw frequent elections – following General Zia’s martial law. Claims of rigging and scanty turnout marked the history until the Musharaf Era, which brought once again a controversial 2002 elections.
2008 and 2013 elections, amid the extremists’ attacks and several other problems, secured 44 and 55 per cent voter turnout, respectively – quite high as compared to around 35 per cent in the last several elections. However, as far as transparency and fairness in the election procedure is concerned it was yet again dismal, as many malpractices and rigging incidents surfaced, leading Imran Khan to stage months-long “Dharna”. Moreover, the 2018 elections stated the same story whereas some international journalists claimed the judiciary and military’s involvement influence the outcomes of the elections. Almost all the political parties – except PTI – alleged large-scale election day rigging.
Now the question arises: will not the upcoming 2023 elections replay the same saga? The answer given the past experiences and historical evidence will eventually fall on nodding head in affirmative. Has there been any attempt at reforming the electoral system amid the shouts of rigging accusations? None of the governments took it seriously; like something that should be done for the sake of democracy. For doling out suspicions and ambiguities and making elections free and fair the current governmental step is plausible. However, the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines at a time when the country is facing innumerable problems regarding elections – such as political awareness, dishonest staff, law and order, violence, buying votes – will fallback the government’s endeavours along with oppositions steadfastness at holding the process in abeyance at least till the next elections or government. Nevertheless, the tendencies seem to prop the victory in the upcoming elections and are not focused on introducing a fair and transparent elections procedure.
The incumbent government despite opposition from ECP and opposition parties is adamant about introducing the EVMs. Knowing that the introduction of EVMs at such a critical point, when the government has scarce time to fully deploy the machines across the country, will negatively affect the next elections. The government perhaps is planning to ripe the opportunities that the uncertainty at next general elections will beget. However, one can draw the conclusion from the current tussle on the EVMs issue that Khan’s government is not only making political point-scoring by introducing EVMs but has likely an eye on the next elections day when the government will have an upper hand in manipulating the uncertainty and uneasiness of the masses at EVMs.
The government is neglecting the environment in which it has pleaded to put novel machines before the masses. The situation at hand is not conducive for the introduction of such a procedure along with other technical problems that would question the legitimacy of elections. Mr. Khan should have introduced EVMs long before at least in some areas that would have made it possible to conduct LG elections at EVMs. Also, the deployment of Machines across the country until the next elections would have been possible. Alongside, the authorities must have to consider other obstacles in the way of free and fair elections that pave the way to malpractices on elections days.