WEB DESK: Never before in the parliamentary history of Pakistan has a by-election witnessed so much sound and fury – not even the one for NA-246 last April – as has the NA-122 this past Sunday, which has been won by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz by a very thin margin.
It was a fierce neck to neck contest between PML-N candidate Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Aleem Khan, with Pakistan People’s Party candidate trailing far behind with less than 1,000 votes. Not that victory of one and loss of the other would have impacted in any significant manner the power equation at the federal level.
But there was this battle of clashing mindsets and superhuman egos that imparted so much hype to the by-election. Ordinarily, a by-election to the present National Assembly, where the PML-N is so firmly entrenched and would not be much troubled by losing one seat, should have been a tame affair as was the case of NA-144 where an Independent delivered a crushing blow to both PML-N and PTI candidates hands down.
But as if it was a make-or-break challenge to the political future of opposing PML-N and PTI nothing was held back, everything that could help turn the tide in their favour was invested generously and recklessly. Thanks to the massive security arrangements made by joint forces of police, Rangers and the Army, there was hardly any disruption.
But in that there is also the message that as political parties we haven’t yet imbibed the spirit of tolerance that is a prerequisite for a functioning democracy. How about securing countrywide general elections to some thousand-plus seats in the elected houses if you need some 15,000-plus security personnel just to secure three by-elections? By turning the by-election to NA-122 into a gladiatorial contest, both PML-N and PTI have undermined the cause of democracy.
How come for a good one month the country’s political elite had nothing else to do than to win this by-election, shifting to the backburner far more critical matters of national import. The three by-polls remained peaceful. The credit, therefore, strictly goes to the security personnel.
Quite paradoxically, while contesting parties kept injecting hype to the by-elections the voters were not really much impressed as a large number of them decided to stay put in their homes. They didn’t throng the polling booths, sending out the message that they were not party to this ‘battle for the takht (throne) of Lahore’. And by electing Riazul Haq Juj to NA-144 (Okara) with a huge majority, they have made known that to them what matters is the candidate’s real worth and not the hollow claims such as PML (N)’s so-called ‘service record’ and PTI’s ‘Naya Pakistan’.
Given that none of the three by-elections was critical for the existing political equation in the country, the concerned political parties should have desisted from investing in them as much as they did. Of course, there were only ‘minor complaints’ about the conduct at the polling booths, and by and large the election was fair, free and transparent. But is it not a fact that the NA-122 by-election must be the most expensive electoral exercise, and a huge blow to the idea of making democracy a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
Can anyone say the expenditure incurred by the candidates was within Rs 1.5 million permissible limit? Can anyone justify the prime minister’s presser highlighting his government’s performance on the eve of vote? And, is there any other explanation to KPK Chief Minister Khattak’s support for the highly controversial Kalabagh Dam except that of a sop to win over the pro-dam voters of Lahore? The bitter truth is that everything that could go wrong with the NA-122 by-election as a democratic exercise has gone wrong.
The questions whether or not only thousands-strong security paraphernalia can only guarantee peaceful voting, only rich and mighty can contest elections, and elections are more a gruelling fight between big egos than simple contests to be joined by ordinary Pakistanis need plausible answers. There are legitimate reservations about the emerging electoral culture, as aptly reflected by the NA-122 contest. These must be looked into, and factored into as and when the much-awaited electoral reforms come up before the parliament.