Pakistan’s Election Rigging Starts after Supreme Court Delivers Major Blow to PTI

By Jay Rover
(Courtesy @steve_hanke
X post)
In a big blow to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Supreme Court has reversed the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) order that reinstated the party’s iconic “bat” symbol for the upcoming general elections. The verdict means PTI ticket holders will now have to run as independent candidates. The PHC’s decision had been challenged by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), leading to a two-day marathon hearing by a three-member bench.

Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, and Justice Musarrat Hilali heard the ECP’s petition and concluded that the PTI had failed to hold intra-party elections as requested since May 24, 2021. The court asserted that the ECP’s actions were not discriminatory, as it had issued severe orders against 13 other registered political parties. The verdict highlighted that the PTI failed to provide prima facie evidence of conducting credible intra-party elections, and 14 PTI members had lodged complaints, challenging the legitimacy of the process.

The court emphasized the importance of adhering to party constitutions and the Elections Act, stating that the ECP had the authority to question and adjudicate intra-party elections. The ruling could have repercussions on other parties, as the PTI’s legal counsel indicated their intention to file an appeal against the decision. Despite the setback, the PTI remains hopeful, asserting that people will respond positively to Imran Khan’s call on election day.

The court’s decision adds a layer of complexity to the political landscape, as parties scramble to finalize their candidates before the imminent general elections on February 8.

Social media exploded with strong reaction to the apex court’s unprecedented decision with PTI supporters, independent journalists and international commentators describing the decision as first step towards rigging of the February 8 ballot.  “Pakistan = rigged elections”, wrote Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University in a post on X (formerly twitter). He posted a cartoon showing  a man in uniform receiving a cake (of corruption) from a judge. The uniformed man was a direct reference to Pakistan’s military which is notorious for its ruthlessness, subversion of constitution and is being accused by human rights groups of being involved in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and massive human rights violations.

Majority of the posts on X condemned the court decision as one-sided and which had visible footprints of Pakistani military. The country’s army chief General Asim Munir is being widely viewed by an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis as a ruthless dictator who is running the country almost directly and with the blessings of his Arab and Western patrons. Insulting photos of General Munir and Chief Justice Isa were being posted by angry X users who called the chief justice a boot licker of the generals.

“Never thought that Pakistan will sink this low in denigrating its own democracy…,” wrote Taimur Saleem Jhagra, a former finance minister of Khyber Paktunnkhwa in the last PTI government, in his post on X.

“This play was being performed fo 76 years. But its architects remain hidden from public view,” tweeted Salman Ahmad, a well known singer, poet, professor and peace activist who is also a long-time associate of Imran Khan. He posted a cartoon showing  a man in uniform using the judges as puppets in his show. 

The International Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based human rights organization, also deplored the court decision calling it a “huge blow” to the fundamental rights of Pakistanis.

Senior journalist and analyst Dr. Moeed Pirzada, who is living in exile because of threats to his life from Pakistani state actors, also criticized the decision. In his post on X, Pirzada deplored the silence of the United States and other Western countries over the unfolding disastrous situation in Pakistan.  He wrote: “While this has been done to save Nawaz Sharif from total electoral defeat, the surprising thing is total silence from the Governments of US, Britain and key players in Europe? Abysmal failure of Washington, London & Brussels to raise voice on the murder of democracy and rule of law in Pakistan has only strengthened the fears that west has been behind the emasculation of democracy in Pakistan! Why? What lies ahead? What is at stake? What is needed?”

“It’s a dark day for Pakistan’s democracy,” said Wajahat Saeed Khan, another well-known Pakistani journalist and a critic of military’s role in politics, in his post on X. Khan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, who along with Pirzada, is facing several trumped up cases, including high treason in Pakistan, criticized the court decision, saying it had “killed any hopes of a free and fair elections next month”. Khan and Pirzada have repeatedly rejected the cases and have always pleaded their innocence while calling for democracy and respect for human rights in Pakistan.

Even some of PTI’s known critics and Pakistani establishment’s known apologists like Michael Kugelman, who is also South Asia Institute Director at the Wilson Center, came out with scathing criticism of the court decision. “PTI leaders jailed. PTI electoral candidates’ nomination papers denied. PTI online rallies/fundraisers blocked. Top PTI rival’s legal woes melt away. SC justices perceived as siding w/PTI step down. PTI denied use of election symbol. This is brazen, not subtle, pre-polls rigging,” he wrote on X. Wilson Center is a Washington based think tank that is funded by the US government. 

Kugelman received responses from several X users. “Pakistani civil servants worship your analyses on the global affairs. How about writing to them directly,” wrote one user.

Kugelman best summed up the court decision by rightly declaring: “this is brazen, not subtle, pre-polls rigging.” Indeed it is pre-poll rigging because by denying PTI an election symbol, it has essentially stopped it from contesting the February 8 elections as a political party. Thus the apex court has deprived it of the reserved National Assembly seats for women which are awarded to political parties on proportional basis. The popular belief in Pakistan is that the military does not want Khan’s PTI win the elections and is actively involved in influencing the democratic process through third degree coercive means. Almost all public opinion polls show massive support for Khan’s PTI, with 60-80% voters favoring his party.

While the generals may succeed in engineering a puppet government, subservient to their whims, it will not bring political stability to the country which is already almost bankrupt.  Example are abound that lack of political stability will not bring economic revival and foreign investment.

In one latest major setback, the government received not a single bid for setting up a 600-megawatt solar power project at Muzaffargarh despite multiple revisions in incentives and extensions in deadlines given by the Private Power & Infrastructure Board (PPIB) — a one-window power sector entity of the federal government.

Tyrants in uniform have ruled Pakistan for almost half of its history since its independence in 1947. Dictator after dictator brought their own “visions”, “doctrines” and ideas but none worked, sliding the country backwards both democratically and economically. The military’s unending interest in resetting and controlling the country’s political landscape will be counterproductive because its iron-fist crackdown on PTI and the courts failure to administer justice will create new cadres of radicals which could potentially further tear down Pakistan’s already tattering social fabric.

A shift in governance achieved through coercion could result in the emergence of puppets like Nawaz Sharif, but it would exacerbate the instability of Pakistan. As a nuclear-armed nation facing financial challenges, such a change might place the country under the control of desperate, unstable, and unpopular military leaders.

 

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