The essence of any democratic Constitution lies in defining and limiting the authority of the State in relation to the sphere of individual freedom and in providing for the exercise of that authority by the representatives of the people elected in fair and free elections. The term ‘free and fair elections’ has been heard number of times since the General Elections of 2013 and then afterwards we heard it time and again during different phases of Local Bodies elections conducted in different Provinces. The questions ‘why is it difficult to hold free and fair elections in Pakistan?’ and ‘why are there always allegations of rigging after elections?’ are not difficult to answer. Anyone who knows even a little bit about the history of Pakistan can answer the same with ease.
The tussle for political power and the desire to retain it by hook or by crook leads to rigging of elections. We can see that just before the General Elections of 2013 there was a struggle for the control of the Provincial administration for the purpose of rigging of the elections.
The Pakistan People’s Party which had government in Center and Sindh ensured that it retained the Province of Sindh by appointing the care taker set up which would effectively give it control over the administration of Sindh. Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League ensured that it controlled the administration of Punjab, the province in which they were already holding power, by having its own care taker set up. It is a common belief of the political parties that whichever party controls the Provincial administration will be able to manipulate the elections in its own favour by pressure exerted through the machinery for maintaining law and order, by tampering with ballot boxes and by other similar devices which had been used in the past. The parties in power manipulate by corrupting legislators and political workers through favours granted at the expense of the State. The parties which do not have the power are lavish with the promises of the favours to come.
The preceding paragraph might lead someone into thinking that maybe this is all because there are not enough checks and balances in the Constitution of 1973. Any such presumption must be vehemently negated on the ground that any Constitution is open to abuse and as a matter of fact has been abused. One must distinguish carefully between the shortcomings of the Constitution and the wrongdoings of those entrusted with power under it. Even the merits and demerits of a Constitution are determined largely by the values one holds. The checks and balances which characterize modern democratic constitutions have evolved in the course of a long struggle against authoritarian concentration of power on the one hand and against the rebellious forces of disorder and disharmony on the other. What we need in Pakistan is a strong constitutional structure that acts as a shield against undemocratic tendencies and provides opportunity to the people to gain experience of political responsibility. This is not achievable over night and is in fact a long process. This is similar to mastering any skill and has its successes and setbacks. It takes time and practice to learn the right balance between freedom and order and it takes steadfast faith in democratic values to persist in the process despite repeated failures. The school in which this experience is gained is free elections and the instrument for imparting this education is open public debate between political parties. In Pakistan both the school and the instrument are not perfect, indeed far from it, but the modern world has not yet seen a better means of educating the people in affairs of the State.
It is often argued that Parliamentary democracy has failed us. Politicians are run down and politics itself is regarded as a reprehensible activity instead of being among the highest duties of a citizen. I haven often heard the argument that our people are not fit for democracy or they do not know how to elect representatives who can run the government or, even better, give them the system of government they understand. The system our people have known through centuries is authoritarianism or personal dictatorship. They know it and understand it, respect it and fear it, but it has kept them backward for centuries. It has repressed their energies and they are far behind other modern democracies of the world.
Even when we are most disillusioned with the democratic process and most disgusted with the evils of political parties and politicians, we should never turn our minds in the direction of a personal dictatorship, however alluringly paternalistic it might appear. Nor should we cut the constitutional cloth to the measure of any one man, for constitutions are meant to last longer than individuals. We should not be misled by the fact that there have been good dictators, for they have been few and far between. The majorities of them have imposed superficial stability, but have also brought in their train stagnation, oppression, nepotism and corruption. Gradually that tendency towards the exercise of arbitrary power which is hallmark of personal dictatorship pervades the whole administration. Every petty official works his will upon the people who live in fear and insecurity. At the other end the dictator himself lives in fear of being assassinated or violently removed from office for as personal dictatorship rests upon the support of the armed forces, it sets up strains and stresses within them and weakens their discipline and solidarity.