The election process is seen by the people according to their perception of things as they should be. Politicians see an October date as the end of their three years-drought in the cold, most intelligentsia see the approaching date as impending doom. There is even talk of a 1971-like situation post October 2002. The business community is somewhat ambivalent, caught between the devil and the deep sea. The Amjad-NAB was focussed on big business, the Khalid Maqbool and Munir Hafeez-NABs follow different pursuits, taking the heat off the mercantile community. Leading to the question, would big business be comfortable with the Army’s continuing governance in some form or go back to the barracks? For the broad expanse of the public the impending Elections evokes mixed reaction, people do want elected representatives, but more than that they want bread on their tables and a roof over their heads. It would be nice also to have money to pay for electricity and other utilities.
Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi denied flatly that the military regime had any preferences among politicians, so what is the trio of political amateurs led by Tariq Aziz, Principal Staff Officer to the President, upto directing political traffic? They would be well advised not to enter where angels fear to tread, history has shown that bureaucratic manipulation is a short term solution which invariably boomerangs. While the military cannot be deaf, dumb and blind about those who will guide the nation’s destiny in the years to come, especially when politicians remained deaf, not-so-dumb but blind to the travails of the country and its people in the past, instead of manipulating an “acceptable result” by getting the “like-minded” elected surreptitiously, it would be far better to create a transparent level playing field.
To start with, forget having any Referendum, that will be a disaster. Less than 40% of the electorate voted in the last General Elections, most reached to the voting booths by transportation arranged by the political parties. How many will turn out in the Referendum even if they love the President? If the Establishment can possibly manage the logistics of getting 20% of the electorate to the booths and even if all of them voted positively, would the world believe the sanctity of the vote? Referendums in third world countries are only an exercise in futility.
It is too late to disqualify anyone through the NAB process if they have not been disqualified already, any attempt to do so will make the election process farcical in international perception. That in turn will make the three-years period mandated by the Supreme Court meaningless. The Central Board of Revenue (CBR) should give to the Election Commission (EC) Income & Wealth Tax Statements (of 1997) of the candidates who either won the election or were runner-up in 1997. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) should then appoint a panel of about 25-30 Chartered Accountant (CA) firms for a summarized one/two page comparison of the Wealth Statements of these candidates with the Statements of Assets they filed when becoming a candidate in 1997. Discrepancies should be noted and reported to the Election Commission (EC) within 3 days by the designated CA firm. The EC should appoint “Asset Verification Tribunals”, each Bench compromising 3 retired judges of the High Court, each tribunal assisted by a qualified CA to scrutinize the findings of the CA firm, not more than 15 cases before each tribunal. If the discrepancies noted by the CAs are minor infringement or because of genuine human error they should condoned. If not then the candidate should stand disqualified. The candidate should have right of appeal before “Asset Verification Appeal” Benches constituted by the Chief Justices of the Provincial High Courts. Similarly, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) should appoint SC “Asset Verification Appeal” Benches for quick disposal of any final appeal. If the procedures start on or around April 1, these could be completed within 60 days i.e. before May 31, 2002. By this transparent cleansing process those who have perjured themselves under oath will be disqualified, and the military will have kept themselves not only neutral but clear of the entire disqualification process. The law is there, we simply need to apply it. Can any country in the world, however, democratic their credentials, ostracize the election process as unfair if the politicians are found to have been making false statements under oath?
Now, comes the need for continuity. The military regime has a strong case for going back to Supreme Court to request a mechanism to ensure that the reforms are not reversed by the politicians and we end up on square one in the same morass we were heading for on Oct 12, 1999. The only way to prevent backslide (and another army coup) would be to maintain continuity. The five year period should be counted from the June 2001 date that the President took office, i.e. upto June 2006. Mian Nawaz Sharif almost managed a civil war, a few years earlier Ms Benazir had different ideas from the President. Politicians cannot be allowed to manipulate the appointments of the senior hierarchy of the military, particularly the COAS. The even-handed NAB process should not be interrupted, the governing politicians will only target their enemies. The shortcomings (and my own reservations) of plea bargaining notwithstanding, the fact remains that NAB has been relatively very successful in the process of accountability. National Security being a vital part of concern, a National Security Council (NSC) must be headed by the President. Therefore, the Armed Forces, NAB and NSC should remain directly under the President. The President must seek approval ipso facto from the Supreme Court. If the SC approves, then a suitable clause must be inserted into the candidate’s application form who by signing it confirms that he/she will not take any action by word, print or mouth to overturn his/her pledge. The President should simply maintain peace and harmony of the country and ensure that by making the election process transparent there is no interference with the working of the political parties.
Any candidate with a solid vote bank of 20-25% from his caste, sect, ethnicity, etc will win in the present “first past the post” system. The government must bring in “run-off elections”. Voter apathy is prevalent because the voter has come to believe that his/her vote does not count. No candidate should get elected unless he/she gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round. Without that there has to be a “run-off election” between the first two candidates. Once elected, the candidate tends to forget his own loyal constituents, what to talk of the majority of the voters that did not vote for him/her. This method will force the candidate to reach out to the balance 75-80% who do not belong to his caste, sect, ethnicity, etc, moreover he cannot dismiss them as irrelevant, other than the period of the election itself. Irrespective of affiliation other than political, the voters will combine to keep the man or woman they want in or out of Parliament, this will bring in homogeneity in the country. Those who today are unbeatable candidates today may not survive a run-off election. The argument that in a second round money will influence the election in favour of the wealthy can be countered by having a quick No 2 round within one week of the first vote. Pakistan’s can eradicate diversion on racial, caste and sectarian lines by inculcating homogeneity in this manner, the “run-off election” forces the candidate to reach out outside his immediate circle of votes or risk being voted out. There is nothing more effective in building up cohesiveness in the nation than to force candidates to break artificial barriers and for the voter to surmount these barriers to ensure that a candidate they want wins and the candidate they do not want loses and does not represent their interests in various political assemblies.
Pervez Musharraf can win a Presidential election at this time hands down and he needs no manipulation by the amateur political artists who think politicians are malleable like putty that they can mold in secret to any shape and form they want. Such an election will be called a farce by the opposition, so why waste the President’s time and that of the country in such a futile exercise? He must remain above the fray of the political process and keep the Armed Forces out of it. As long as he has the vital factors concerning national security in his strong hands, this country has a fair chance.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).