Caretakers and undertakers

Caretakers and undertakers

As the election process gathers steam it is becoming evident through media reports that we have a mixed bag of caretaker setups in the Centre as well as the provinces. Some of their actions and some refusals to act where required show that all is not well.

It is a well known fact that previous caretaker governments have all been partial and a party in arranging the rigging of elections, bestowing favours to the political party for whose furtherance they were appointed. Contrary to that sordid chapter, it was hoped that this time around things would be very different, that the caretakers would undertake their only prescribed duty of ensuring the holding of free and fair elections; that in this process they would fully cooperate, completely support and fulfil the requirements laid down by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

All the political parties, civil society and the media had unanimously approved and highly praised the appointment of Justice (retd) Fakhruddin Ebrahim as the CEC; actually it was his personality that had given us all the confidence and hope of fairness. Unfortunately, that may turn out to be a false hope if some of the caretakers turn out to be undertakers. If people in government are out to subvert the freedom and fairness of the election process and its regulations on the Election Day then what can one Fakhru bhai and his people do?

There have been serious objections to the procedure adopted for the Sindh caretaker chief minister but neither the Sindh High Court nor the Supreme Court have stepped in to redress a clear mockery of the law. A law followed in letter without the spirit is like a body without a soul. The PPP and MQM, even a novice can tell, have conspired to get their own setup in Sindh. The media also informs us that other than three members all the other cabinet members are equally divided between these two parties!

When such manoeuvres as to send the MQM to the opposition solely to appoint their nominee as the CM were undertaken, surely this was not to ensure fair elections but clearly the opposite. Thus, the fear is quite real that freedom and fairness will be taken care of by the undertaker governments. The surprising part is that no major party like the PML-N is pursuing it in the courts. Apparently, a petition has been filed but it is being slow pedalled; shall we surmise that the decision will come after the elections?

Punjab’s consensual decision for chief minister bodes well for the province where tough battles will be fought; it shows some signs of maturity amongst the parties and also Mr Najam Sethi’s abilities at performing a balancing act. He has appointed a small cabinet, which has not been criticised by any major party. All is well for the time being and we hope it ends well. However, recently, Mr Sethi said that in the enforcement of law he has a limited force, therefore, he would not go for any major groups whom he cannot tackle. We do not know what is stopping him from requesting the army’s assistance to tackle the extremist groups in southern Punjab and elsewhere who were being protected by politicians and some agencies.

The federal government’s refusal to transfer Punjab’s chief secretary to Sindh, as directed by the Election Commission, is not in keeping with Prime Minister Khoso’s earlier statement that he is here to facilitate the ECP. Has this change been denied on the behest of vested interests in Sindh who want to maintain the status quo of the existing highly politicised bureaucracy, which is necessary to rig the elections? The media informs us that various other administrative changes are also being denied or resisted by the government. The recent example of the removal of the State Bank’s deputy governor, ordered by the ECP as it was an illegal appointment, was resisted and ignored by Mr Khoso’s government. The matter had to go to court. As a result, the ECP is being subverted and efforts are being made to turn it into a toothless body.

Recently, a leading English daily carried a news report on its front page that the caretaker interior minister had in his wisdom overturned a decision of the CEC, General Kayani and the ministry of defence to place adequate army personnel at all polling stations earmarked as sensitive by the ECP and to place army personnel inside all other polling stations. We, in places like Karachi, felt relieved that after more than two decades we shall have the opportunity to vote freely without coercion or harassment. May I ask whether the ‘highly experienced’ interior minister is carrying a different agenda than the one which Fakhru bhai and General Kayani are committed to?

Mr Minister if army troops will not be available at the polling stations in Karachi, a few other cities in Sindh, parts of Balochistan, southern Punjab and elsewhere, you can kiss the fair and free elections goodbye. I am sure that you are aware that the police and Rangers are not only politicised in cities like Karachi but are also involved with crime and corruption. In the ongoing Karachi law and order implementation case in the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice has warned them that he would pass orders for the overhauling of the whole police department. And you are telling us those polling stations are to be left at their mercy!

As I was writing this article on April 6 I heard Mr Malik Habib on TV saying that the “police force is neutral”! It was also said that the provincial governments would be authorised to call out the army. This again is a mockery of the requirements of fair elections, and therefore, unacceptable. The ECP is responsible for holding free and fair elections, and, therefore, only the ECP should and must take all decisions including the sole authority to call out army personnel wherever and whenever required.

We earnestly hope that the ECP will insist on the implementation of the original decisions in this regard as any dilution will turn the security arrangements into a farce. The minister needs to be told that one man at each polling station was never meant for security purposes, his presence was required to provide assurance to the electorate and candidates of fair play, an aspect which has been sorely missed in all elections held since 1977. Mr Minister I am fully convinced after watching you on TV that you are absolutely unaware of the ground realities and have therefore no right to occupy the crucial position of an impartial caretaker minister of interior.

The legislative bill that the ECP asked the outgoing corrupt government to pass in its equally self-centered and corrupt parliament is now languishing with the caretaker ministers. The media reports that they too are ignoring it. The Supreme Court has also asked for its implementation. Without empowering the ECP you are denying it the ability to perform its constitutional duty of holding free and fair elections.

Are you, therefore, agreeing with the corrupt government of Raja Pervez Ashraf that empowering the ECP is not in the interest of the outgoing plunderers as they are not interested in fair elections? This will be your lasting impression if you do not pass an ordinance containing all the amendments required by the ECP to discharge its constitutional duties. The people of this country will remember you as undertakers who buried their hopes and aspirations. Certainly since time is of the essence, the ECP may already be considering approaching the Supreme Court for directions.

Why is this happening? Whose agenda are the caretakers taking care of? Is it one or both of the major parties, or is it the establishment, both of whom have led this country to ruination? If this is how these caretakers will subvert the election process then this will be yet another rigged election. They must realise and remember that the mood in the country has changed; the people will not easily accept results that do not fulfil their aspirations. – DailyTimes