One reason why I have waited until the end of the Election Day to write this is that the responses, if any, will hopefully not be emotionally charged after
the event. Another is that the matter has been already discussed in several other fora, including the popular ATP
Well, I did not vote!
There. I've said it. And with no idiots screaming at me without even listening to my views. (Yes, I do have a point of view!). As I write down my thoughts on the subject, I am aware that some are probably a little more than loud-thinking. A few are well-formed; others continue to hang before me as questions that, perhaps, some of you will help me answer. So, please do comment. A request: Don't just tell me I am wrong, tell me why
The first problem I faced when trying to make up my mind about voting or not was to understand why I was voting. I mean it's not an act in itself that has to be done (unlike defecating) but what the process leads to, na?
So I needed to analyse what the criteria would be for my giving my vote to someone, if I were to cast it at all. It was obvious that it was not the person whose picture appeared on the posters: after all in the case of some of the images on the banners, they were not even of the people who were standing ... for example, MQM's Altaf Hussain ... or PPP's Benazir ... or PML(N)'s Nawaz Sharif).
This meant that I would eventually be casting my vote for the symbol that was assigned to a party or to an independent candidate. Naturally it did not depend upon whether I liked the Icon, itself, but what the party stood for. In other words, I needed to check out their manisfestos. Never mind whether they stood by these in practice; that's another track. At least I wasn't going to vote for someone whose very vision of Pakistan or the shrinking world was the antithesis of mine! So the manifestos, specially in some of the key areas - and on issues important to me - had to be clearly different among the parties.
(When buying a house, one tries to choose the one that most closely meets one's needs
... which is not
the same as 'choosing the lesser of the evils', a really stupid idea that seems to have been promoted by idiots! You can
alter the house to some extent, later, but what do you do to the corrupt political rep you've placed in power? To use another analogy, when you marry, do you choose a person because s/he is the lesser evil or the best possible match? Is there no difference?)
The manifestos (not all were easily available or, when found, even readable) had to be abandoned for another reason: They were being abandoned by the parties themselves! While coalitions between parties that think somewhat alike are fairly normal in politics, to see almost all the parties align themselves with any and everyone is nothing if not making a mockery of the voters. The PPP strikes a deal with PML(N) nationwide, but supports a PML(Q) candidate in Karachi. PML(N) - despite the ads put into newspapers today by PML(Q)'s Dirty Tricks Department - has decided to go with PPP, but how far? Asif Z has shown his willingness to work with Musharraf (who has been pointed more than one PPP finger at for possible complicity in Benazir's murder) and is anathema to Nawaz and company.
Even more confusing was the course MQM took: Having conveyed the impression, only a couple of days earlier, that they could be allied to the PPP - that's how the press interpreted the MQM statement that it could strike a deal with any secular
party - chose to team up with Maulana Fazl-or-Rahman and his obviously secularly named Jamiaté Ulemaé Islam. So whose manifesto would I be voting for, regardless of which candidate I chose? A secular, working, middle class party or a Taleban-supporting mulla and his insatiable greed?
(Somewhere along the line my mind wandered off and I began wondering how supporters of Jamaaté Islami and Tehreeké Insaaf were supposed to perform their duty
to vote, if their parties were boycotting the elections. And, if it is the citizens' duty
to vote, shouldn't - by extension - boycotting the election also be considered dereliction of duty by a party?)
The biggest source of grief to me is seeing the ease with which the term "free and fair elections' has become acceptable to people. The election of a candidate, to me, implies a whole process and not just the transaction that takes place on the Election Day in a booth. As Muneer Malik explained clearly to his T2F audience, just yesterday, this involves the right people in positions of relevance (EC and other related institutions), an unbiased government, fair acceptance/rejection of candidates, easy and non-coercive access to voting, correct transmission of untampered ballot-boxes to the counting team, an honest count and announcement of results, and a just response to any objections that opponents may raise. If any of these processes are disrupted by someone with vested interests, it would be done with the intent of placing soeone else in the victor's seat than the person the voters had chosen. So, if the process is not 'free and fair', how is it an 'election', at all, and not a 'selection'?
An observation: Contrary to a view that seems to be popular among many, I believe that Elections are not the pre-cursor to Democracy. Elections have been held here before, and elsewhere, by Dictators and Despots ... with no sign of resulting Democracy except for a sham. It is Democracy that creates an environment which, in turn, makes Elections the method by which to place people's representatives at the helm of affairs.
Finally, I come back to the aspect of Voting being a Duty (Farz
). Even assuming it is, there's something else to consider: Do the choices (of candidates) being offered really provide you the opportunity to make a satisfactory and sensible decision? Think: If you had to choose a travel companion and all you had to choose between were a murderer and a dacoit, would you not consider postponing the trip?
When duties are assigned, they are not unconditional. They are expected to be performed only if
the conditions necessary for their performance are present ... or they can be safely ignored. After all, this applies even to duties assigned in the Qur'an
: Surah 5 Ayat 6, for example, assigns Muslims the 'duty' of washing their 'hands' before prayers. Surely a man without arms (or with just one hand) would not be shunning his duties in not following it to the letter.