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The right man for the wrong job

“If you are going through hell, keep going” — Churchill

With octogenarians walking us through the most tumultuous times in our history, we don’t see a way out. No promises, no light at the end of the tunnel and no choice but to accept Churchill’s advice.

“Give my regards to General Kayani”, Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, winding up his briefing at the Nadra headquarters, told a uniformed officer sitting in front of him. The gentleman stood up to make an exit and said, “I am General Kayani”. This was only one of the instances of the obvious making itself felt.

Fakhru Bhai’s credentials are rich, his integrity impeccable and his character spotless. He has served as the governor of Sindh, been a cabinet minister, the attorney general of Pakistan and a judge of the Supreme Court. He earned his LLB with distinction in 1949 and had the privilege of attending lectures delivered by Mohandas Gandhi – which probably influenced the pacifist, non-violent side of his personality. Above all, he refused to take oath under Ziaul Haq’s PCO.

He is no doubt the right man, but the job is wrong. It is a tough, gargantuan call for the twilight years of his life.

When Fakhruddin G Ebrahim was appointed Election Commissioner last year in July, he was – barring a few exceptions – welcomed by people of all shades and opinions. It brought a measure of soothing calm to a country tense and turbulent under the dense clouds of confusion and uncertainty. The initial support, however, started waning and the excessive exuberance eventually dissipated. Balancing the desire for quick fixes and ground realities was one thing, translating it into transparent, tangible action was quite another. Fakhru Bhai was hardly prepared for it and his frustration and gripe became more pronounced particularly in the near absence of support by the government.

Traditionally the Election Commission of Pakistan has always been low on the totem pole of the government’s priorities. The legion of officialdom – mostly of the ilk of Rip Van Winkle – spring into action once in five years and that too if there are signs of any elections at all.

The post of secretary of the ECP remained vacant for two years – until recently – conveniently consigning to limbo the undeniable truth that elections do not cascade down from the skies. It is a gigantic activity that needs a well-defined mechanism to carry out a complex assignment centring around policy execution, multitasking, scheduling and monitoring.

This requires a sound administrative structure that could enforce an effective and reliable code of conduct under a smooth election process. The doctrine of election management is conceptually political that puts in place a piece of machinery sharply focused on free and fair elections demanding simultaneously to stay above the political fray. A tightrope walk, no doubt.

The ability and expertise of judges to handle this kind of executive exercise is a moot question. In fact, the ECP has so far been clueless about the dos and don’ts of its own authority. Moreover, our penchant and predilection for the judiciary as the answer to every problem needs to be re-examined. The judges are unnecessarily being dragged into an area they do not belong in. And don’t forget: ‘Where angels go, trouble follows’.

The recent actions by returning officers, apart from making us a laughing stock of the world, cast a shadow on the credibility and impartiality of the system. When confronted, the initial response of the ECP was nonchalant saying that it did not send out instructions to the returning officers. When pressure mounted, a lengthy list explaining the code of conduct was fired off directing the ROs to refrain from subjecting the candidates to unnecessary questioning.

Sudden freedom is not easy to digest and our institutions need to learn how to stay within the confines of the parameters set by the constitution. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan takes the cake in creating and deepening confusion. For example, it is no business of the ECP to tell the police how much personal security is required by a certain politician.

Why not leave it to the Home Ministry which has access to intelligence reports and should take appropriate security precautions? Similarly why is the ECP painfully incompetent in catching tax evaders and defaulters?

Orders to recall security details from former political office-holders were senseless. The threat to politicians’ lives is clear. It is the responsibility of the government to take care of their safety and security. The security agencies have warned of possible attacks on 30 to 40 high-value targets in different parts of the country. While the federal and provincial authorities along with the Directorate of Military Operations have put in place a contingency plan, an inadequacy always exists. The ECP, therefore, is well advised to stay away from security and surveillance matters.

Given our history of military takeovers, the fear of the hidden hand of what they call ‘establishment’ is clearly ubiquitous and largely casts long shadows over our decision-making. A highly-placed insider points to a tacit understanding between the top leadership of major stakeholders to install horses of their choice at the centre as well as in the provinces culminating in the present showmanship.

This was a masterstroke to forestall the possibility of technocrat caretakers switching into the role of long-term chairtakers. Fakhru Bhai has lately complained that the former rulers don’t want to give up power and privileges and still consider themselves rulers even after the caretaker governments have been set up.

In this backdrop Fakhru Bhai is our best bet and deserves our full backing and support. However, he took office amid high hopes. These hopes will shrivel if former leading lights who happen to be at the centre of corruption allegations – real or invented – stage a comeback without proper investigation.

The upcoming elections are a cliffhanger. It is election time but doesn’t feel like it. A secret code of silence is being followed and respected. Electioneering is as congenial as ‘friendly opposition’. No serious finger-pointing, no blame game. Pakistani politics, it appears, has finally come of age. But if the status quo has to be maintained, why manipulate the system so that poor voters get the blame and sacred cows remain protected?

The writer is a former information minister at the Pakistan embassy in Washington DC. Email: malikzahoor@gmail.com

Malik Zahoor Ahmad, "The right man for the wrong job," The News. 2013-04-18.
Keywords: Political issues , Political process , National issues , Election commission-Pakistan , Government-Pakistan , Politics-Pakistan , Elections-Pakistan , Supreme court , Judiciary , Politicians , Judges , Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim , Zia ul Haq , Gen Kayani , Mohandas Gandhi , Churchill , Pakistan , PCO , LLB