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Electoral fraud

Published : Dec 02, 2011 00:00 IST

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A book that bravely points no fingers at the familiar foreign hands and, in the context, provides a good survey of Pakistan's politics.

THIS is a work on a malady fairly common in the Third World. Rigged polls lead to popular disenchantment with the political process and the ideal of democracy. Authoritarian forces exploit the disenchantment.

Written by an academic of impeccable credentials, the book falls broadly into two parts. The first defines what constitutes an electoral malpractice. The rest is an exhaustive survey of the record of electoral malpractices in Pakistan right until the 2008 elections and the post-poll machinations that followed.

The research is thorough. The book features reports and studies on the subject, besides interviews that Iffat Humayun Khan has conducted. It is rich data that she has collected.

Nile Green, Professor of South Asia History at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes in his foreword:

The most immediate contextualisation of Benazir's death that the book provides is that of the 518 other murders committed during the electoral process between October 18, 2007, and February 16, 2008, including the 139 people killed by the suicide bomber who greeted Benazir's return from exile in Dubai. Yet, if these victims paid the highest price for their participation in the democratic process, since Pakistan's foundation in 1947 many thousands of other citizens have (in both the figurative and literal senses) paid prices for more prosaic forms of electoral malpractice. Whether as perpetrators or victims, Iffat Humayun Khan has carefully documented the place of many other Pakistanis in this larger and incremental trajectory of lesser known malpractices that culminated in the infamous events of December 2007. The book bravely points no fingers at the familiar foreign hands but fiercely turns the searchlight inwards. It provides, in the context, a good survey of Pakistan's politics.

Malpractices

The chapter Defining Electoral Malpractices deserves to be read widely in many countries outside Pakistan. It covers the role of landlords, dynastic politics and bureaucrats as well.

The techniques are system rigging, splitting opposition parties, disqualifying opposition candidates, disenfranchising voters and pre-poll rigging, including misuse of official resources. There is an equally detailed analysis of poll-day rigging and post-poll rigging. The analyses draw on works by recognised academics. The rest of the book is a documented survey of electoral malpractices since the days of Ayub Khan until the poll of 2008. In her opinion:

Despite a seriously flawed and difficult pre-election environment, the 18 February 2008 general elections in Pakistan provided a genuine opportunity for Pakistani voters to express their will. A relatively peaceful election day defied widespread fears/expectations of violence, and fears of systematic manipulation appear to have been blunted. To date, there appears to be a broad acceptance of the results. Overall, this election represented a big step forward on the democratic path. However, the serious assault on Pakistan's constitutional order and fundamental flaws in the pre-election environment prevented the election from meeting international standards, forging the need for remedial action.

The study concludes with a prescription on preventing electoral malpractices. One hopes that, before long, an equally well-documented work will be written on the rigged polls in the god-forsaken State of Jammu and Kashmir from 1951 to 2008. Three of them were lauded by the great democrat Jawaharlal Nehru; the one conducted by Sheikh Abdullah in 1951 and the ones of 1957 and 1962 conducted by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. He was wont to say, Vote aap denge; ginenge to hum (you will cast the votes; it is we who will count them). Well said, indeed.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Dec 02, 2011.)

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