Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are we heading towards the Action-Replay of 1977 elections?

By Akhtar Malik


It was a sunny morning of 7 March 1977 when a democratically elected government was to hold general elections so that a smooth transfer of power could take place. PPP under the leadership of ZA Bhutto was still considered to be the most popular party. In order to counter PPP, almost all the opposition parties joined hands under the name of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) and started an aggressive campaign.

When the results were announced Pakistan Peoples Party won 155 out of 200 seats in the National Assembly. The results of the elections astonished political pundits both inside and outside Pakistan. Pakistan National Alliance was only able to win 36 National Assembly seats. To add insult to injury, the Alliance could only win 8 out of 116 seats of the National Assembly from Punjab, and failed to win even a single seat from Lahore and Rawalpindi, cities in which they had organized big public gatherings and processions.

Pakistan National Alliance leaders rejected the results and protested that there had been a systematic rigging of election results to defeat them. At many places, particularly where the PNA candidates were strong, the polling was alleged to have been blocked for hours. There were also reports that PPP armed personnel in police uniform removed ballot boxes. Marked ballot papers were also found on the streets in Karachi and Lahore. Rumours quickly circulated that the results in key constituencies were issued directly from the Prime Minister’s office. PNA boycotted the provincial elections which were to be held on 10 March. PPP resorted to bogus voting merely to prove that voters had come to cast their ballot. Overall PPP gained 99 percent seats. The voting figures showing the success of the PPP candidates often surpassed the actual number that turned up for voting.

The opposition demanded immediate resignation of Bhutto, chief election commissioner, and as well as the government, proposing the idea of holding new elections under the supervision of Supreme Court of Pakistan. Bhutto refused the demands, Wali Khan and the Alliance decided to bring their party workers onto the streets, to break law deliberately, and to confront the police and security forces. Mr Bhutto decided to negotiate matters with the PNA. Negotiations began on June 3 and went through 13 rounds.



During the negotiations the opposition demanded that since clear evidence of rigging in 28 constituencies were available with them so an inquiry should be conducted in those places only. Bhutto issued a notification whereby Election Commission was ordered to carry our thorough investigation of the rigging charges within two months wherever the opposition had lodged complaints. Election Commissioner of Pakistan Justice Sajjad Ahmad Jan carried out the investigation and submitted report to the PM. 

According to report the elections were rigged, bogus / unverified votes were polled in all the 28 alleged constituencies. Mr. Bhutto would have given the orders for re-elections in those places but one thing became his weakest point. Those constituencies also included the constituency of Yahya Bakhtiyar in Quetta who happened to be a very close friend of Bhutto. In a bid to save his friend Bhutto cancelled the notification of inquiry in rigging and thus let the situation worsen till his government was toppled by Gen Zia on 5 July 1977.

What is happening now seems to be an action replay of the unfortunate events of 1977. Soon after the elections of 11 May 2013 there were complaints of rigging from almost all parties and there are over 400 petitions lying in SC / ECP on this. PTI had asked for an inquiry on thumb impressions in only 4 constituencies. Ch. Nisar said that the government is ready to inquire into 40 and not mere 4 ones. Later he said that there should be inquiry in all 272 constituencies. NADRA had carried out thumb impression checking in Karachi and declared that about 50 to 60 thousand votes were unverified. 

When the question of checking came to NA-118 Lahore from where Sardar Ayaz Sadiq had been declared successful against Imran Khan, the Chairman NADRA Tariq Malik was removed from service. The case of rigging is in SC and opposition party PTI is adamant to get the verification at all cost. The tension between PML-N and opposition is increasing with each passing day. The question is: Will PML-N try to save their stalwart Ayaz Sadiq. Speaker NA from disqualification and humiliation at the peril of democracy and their government?

I have yet to see politicians learning lessons from their checkered history.

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