Tale of three elections by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

In last one week three elections have happened two in Pakistan and one in Turkey. In Pakistan we have observed local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and legislative assembly elections in Gilgit Baltistan. In Turkey there was an election for the legislative assembly that was considered a referendum on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because of his desire to seek constitutional amendments to convert a parliamentary system of government to presidential. There are many lessons to learn from these elections. We will first start with Pakistan.

There is a famous saying that in politics a week is a lifetime. From this perspective nine months is an eternity. This is apparently what it looks like from the hue and cry of opposition parties after widespread rigging allegations were levelled against PTI KP government. Just nine months ago PTI embarked on a dharna (sit-in) and agitation against PML N federal government levelling almost similar allegations that mandate of the people was stolen through systematic rigging in 2013 general elections. Extreme demands of resignation from PM; establishment of a Judicial inquiry commission; and re-elections were made by those standing on PTI container. It was also mentioned that every party is claiming rigging in 2013 general elections. But the people did not come out in as large numbers as was expected. On the other hand all opposition parties came out in support of the government and assured their support for the continuation of the democratic system. To exert further pressure 34 PTI MNAs submitted their resignation in a controversial manner. After many long months of protests the dharna wound up without any success and finally PTI MNAs returned to the assemblies after a Judicial Commission (JC) was formed. The news so far suggest that no party could provide evidence of systematic rigging and JC is expected to announce its verdict by mid of June.

But now it seems the tables have turned after LG elections in KP province. All parties that made passionate speeches about continuation of the democratic system are now calling for the resignation of KP Chief Minister while PTI is on the defensive and announced an all parties conference to be held on June 10th. The tripartite alliance of ANP-JUIF-PPP has announced a protest in front of KP provincial assembly from June 10th until the resignation of the government and fresh LG and provincial assembly elections. Once again all parties claim that they are victim of a widespread rigging. The election of Gilgit-Baltistan elections are not much different in its tone and tenor.

There are few trends evident from all these elections. Since all parties are levelling allegations of rigging against each other that actually means that all of them are engaged in rigging in one form or the other. Because of this factor the overall position of parties remain same as rigging in one constituency by one particular party is nullified by rigging by the affected party in another constituency. The nation knows none of these parties are different in their organizational structure, quality of candidates and performance of governance. Another thing that is clear is that none of these parties are really serious in reforms of electoral system because all parties are controlled by same group of people who are related to each other. Reform of electoral system would mean losing control of the system and allowing entrance of new players in the process. These parties are also not interested in the devolution of political power to the grass roots. They are forced to hold local government elections by the superior judiciary. So in order to control the politics these parties have resorted to giving tickets to their brothers, relatives and other loyalists. Eventually political elite will be the final beneficiary with some bread crumbs falling in the lap of poor Pakistanis.

The Pakistani nation has made the decision that democratic system has to continue but deep reforms are needed in electoral process and governance structure. Opportunist politics of political parties are rejected by the people. PTI dharna failed because people did not wanted system to wind-up as those standing on the container did not looked much different from other parties. In the similar fashion the protest of tripartite alliance against KP government will also not succeed. The nation is disappointed in its politicians but they have no other option because technocratic governments and military dictatorships also did not delivered and were rather regressive. They expect that media, civic organizations and judiciary would exert pressurize on the political parties to reform so that creditable leadership is allowed to emerge at the top. There is some progress on this front but still much ground to cover.

Now let’s look at the election of Turkey and what trends it projects for democracy in Muslim majority countries. First directly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also leader of right wing Islamist party AKP that has ruled Turkey for last 13 years. As per the election code of conduct President is supposed to remain neutral. President Erdogan violated this code and campaigned aggressively for his AKP party. The speculation was that he wanted to secure majority in parliament so that amendments could be made to increase the power and functions of the President. But voters refused to grant him this privilege and AKP could only secure 41% of the vote cast which is a decline of 8% from last election. This will force AKP to form a coalition government which will require a compromise. This verdict of the electorate indicate that Turkish voters did not wanted to give enhanced political power of a politician that has increasingly demonstrated autocratic tendencies. The other thing to note from Pakistani perspective is that none of the parties labelled corruption allegations against other parties. President Erdogan gracefully accepted the results despite the loss of face.

In many Muslim majority countries including Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh the voters are sending a message that they want democratic governments. They prefer governments that deliver on promises without concentrating too much power in their hands. Muslim electorates are no longer interested in strongman, autocrats and monarchs. It is for this reason Egyptian President Al-Sisi is still struggling with legitimacy in his country. On the other hand there are trends emerging in monarchies of Middle East where people are speaking up against it. This trend is expected to continue and gain more traction. To avoid a violent transformation, it is advisable for these monarchs to explore ways to convert to constitutional monarchies although it should be through small progression. Another preference in Muslim countries is peaceful transfer of power and political accommodation of opponents. The example of Tunisia and Morsi is in front of us. In Tunisia Islamist Ennahda accommodated liberal opponent to secure stability while Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi was rigid and uncompromising which provided an opportunity for military establishment to strike.

Pakistan is making slow but steady progress in its political transformation and one necessary condition is institutionalization of political parties. That process is now underway and will gain momentum after each election cycle.

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