Good gesture and bad omens

By Ashraf Mumtaz

March 16, 2021 02:14 PM

Belated though, the PTI government’s offer, made on Sunday, to the joint opposition for talks on electoral reforms was a commendable initiative that should be responded to positively by the Pakistan Democratic Movement. 

The offer was made by Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry at a joint press conference with Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz.

However, the developments that took place only a day later changed the environment, creating an impression that something bad is in store for the country and both the ruling party and the opposition are either blind to the situation or are not playing the role they should be playing to avert any political disaster.

For example, the government has opened a front against the Election Commission of Pakistan, calling upon the Chief Election Commissioner and other members to resign as the ECP had failed to perform its duty during the recent Senate elections. 

Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood, accompanied by the same two ministers who had earlier offered an olive branch to the opposition, has been quoted as saying: “There is no option left now. The election commission cannot continue to function in its current state. The ECP [members] should collectively resign,” said Mr Shafqat Mehmood. 

The minister, however, stated that the government had no intention to file any reference for the removal of the CEC and the ECP members (which is the constitutional course in this situation) and just wanted to give a “political response and solution” to the issue. 

In the prevailing situation there is little possibility of the CEC or any ECP member tendering resignation, as a result of which the confrontation between the government and the ECP is expected to spike in the times ahead. 

The opposition, that misses no opportunity that comes its way against the government, seems determined to exploit the situation.  

These parties, which until recently were criticising the ECP over the delay in the hearing of the foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and had even held a demonstration outside the commission’s main office, came out in the ECP’s defence, terming the ministers’ demand “unconstitutional and illegal” and an act of revenge over the Commission’s role in the Daska by-election.  

This stance should establish that the opposition’s stance is not based on any principle; it’s just opposition for the sake of opposition.

The education minister said at the news conference that after the Senate polls, the ECP had lost the confidence of the political parties and the people of Pakistan.

Since the leaders of the opposition alliance are scheduled to meet on Tuesday (March 16) it is high time for the participants to seriously discuss the emerging situation and come up with a patriotic response. They should not just try to oppose the government for its momentary interests.  

Also, there is an urgent need for measures to scale down the political temperature that has created a war-like situation in the country. 

The provocative statements issued almost every day by the ruling party leaders and the retaliation coming from opposition show that tolerance on both sides has disappeared and they are determined to obliterate each other. 

This is against the democratic spirit.  

The sooner the two sides agree to a set of electoral reforms the better. 

It is because of the absence of these reforms that objections are raised against the fairness and transparency of elections held at any level. 

The recent by-election on a Daska seat (NA-75 Sialkot) increased the tensions. The mysterious disappearance of polling staff of some 20 polling stations – and their resurfacing on the following day with what can be called lame excuses – made the rival victory claims by the two sides disputed.

The by-election on the seat, that had fallen vacant because of the death the PML-N leader who had won it in 2018 general election, is now due to be held on April 10.

The elections on the 50 percent seats of the Senate, in which PDM candidate Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani succeeded from Islamabad’s general seat defeating government candidate Dr Hafeez Shaikh despite the fact that the ruling coalition had more supporters than the opposition; and then the win of the ruling party’s new chairman and deputy chairman when the opposition had more votes, added to the friction between the two sides.

The ‘egg-and-ink’ treatment that Prime Minister’s aide Shehbaz Gill received at the hands of the PML-N workers at the Lahore High Court premises on Monday is the latest example of growing tensions between the two sides.

Had the two sides shared the table in the past and hammered out a set of reforms the complaints about irregularities in various elections would not have surfaced. 

It is the failure of the ruling coalition and the opposition parties that they could not frame the rules of the game and are still embroiled in bickering, as a result of which the political environment is getting more polluted with the passage of time. 

On the other hand, there is no denying the fact that the economic situation is worsening by the day (notwithstanding the incessant tall claims made by the government functionaries) and survival of the common man is becoming difficult because of the skyrocketing prices.

The opposition parties can play a positive role by coming up with ideas for the government to improve the economy. Mere criticism of the government for its failures is not sufficient.

There is also an urgent need for the government dissuading the opposition from going ahead with its long march plan. 

Such exercises are mere waste of time and will only aggravate the economic situation. 

People coming from various parts of the country will only be affecting the daily life of the areas they will be passing through. The local administrations will have to work round the clock to maintain law and order situation. And at a time when coronavirus is surging for a third time there is no justification for long marches or sit-ins.  

In fact, a poor country like Pakistan needs to work overtime – eight days a week – to be able to grapple with host of problems facing the people.

If the government cannot hold talks and resolve differences with the PDM, it cannot be expected to hold meaningful talks with enemy India which has illegally annexed occupied Kashmir. In other words no solution to the Kashmir dispute can be expected unless the government changes its attitude.  

The PTI leaders must also bear in mind that the incumbent military leadership is not as loyal to the prime minister as Gen Zia was to ZA Bhutto. However, after the election rigging allegations by the opposition and failure of the two sides to find a solution to the situation the most ‘humble’ soldier overthrew the PPP government in July 1977 and ruled the country for some 11 years. Had the tragic air crash not taken place in August 1988 Gen Zia would have stayed in power even after that.

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Ashraf Mumtaz

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