Full of Sound and Fury: Elections in Pakistan

    Written by: Aiza Azam
    Posted on: April 28, 2015 | Post your comment here Comments

    (l-r) Syeda Abida Hussain, Anatol Lieven and Sahar Shafqat - ILF 2015 - Day 2: Elections in Pakistan

    (l-r) Syeda Abida Hussain, Anatol Lieven and Sahar Shafqat

    Rashed Rahman chaired a distinguished panel on elections and the electoral process in Pakistan, which consisted of politician Syeda Abida Hussain, prominent journalist and author Anatol Lieven, and Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s College in Maryland, US. Dr. Muhammad Waseem, Professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, who appeared on the programme for this panel, was conspicuous by his absence in person.

    Abida Hussain began by giving a brief overview of elections in Pakistan, describing it as a ‘physically tiring process’ as candidates must fulfill voter expectations of interpersonal contact. Touching upon problems within the electoral process, she identified ‘slipshod legislation which defies even our constitutional amendments’ and corruption as the two major evils.

    Anatol Lieven, responding to Rahman’s query, spoke on the impact of the military on the country’s political culture and electoral process. His view was that the military had nurtured a publicly held perception of a ‘magical quick fix’ as an alternative to the grindingly slow process and collective effort needed for the electoral process to evolve and strengthen. Another such ‘magical key’ he felt the public perceived was the idea that things would be transformed entirely with just one successfully executed legal, democratic transition of power; he felt that while it was essential for such transitions to constitute the norm rather than the exception, the best they are able to do, ideally, is build consensus about the state’s legitimacy.

    Sahar Shafqat, speaking on why elections weren’t often seen as legitimate in our country, stated that while rigging in elections always happened and was likely to continue, she felt a major reason why elections were viewed as illegitimate was due to the interruptions Pakistan had witnessed over the course of history. She touched upon the lack of fulfillment of the social contract as a major issue in this regard. Responding to Rahman’s comment that poor performance by elected officials encouraged intervention by the military, Shafqat stated that while politicians did share the blame for encouraging ‘extra-constitutional forces’ to intervene, she sympathized with them in a sense as their path to power or office had never really been electorally guaranteed.

    In the interactive session that followed, the audience raised some interesting points, most prominently the obstacles for true and full representation of minorities in the electoral process; and the fact that while individuals in Pakistan can begin voting at the age of 18, their school syllabi till this stage does not provide them with any preparation for exercising this right other than a mere mention of the Constitution, debilitating for efforts aimed at changing mindsets.


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