ASHRAF MUMTAZ

LAHORE - The Pakistan Muslim League-N, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf and the Jamaat-i-Islami are demanding immediate fresh elections to ‘get rid of the present government’.

The ruling party and the opposition have already agreed on appointing former judge Fakhruddin G Ebrahim as the new Chief Election Commissioner. Voter lists will also be ready by the end of the current month.

The major opposition party says now it is going to start talks with the government for the formation of an interim government that will hold elections. If there is no unforeseen hurdle, the elections will be held during the next few months – by the end of the current year or early 2013.

The question is whether the polls should be held according to the timeframe to be decided by the ruling party and the opposition or the interim government should be mandated to stay a bit longer to take some steps before the people use their right to vote. In case some steps were not taken before the polls, any party or coalition forming the next government will not be able to do the job.

Recovery of the written-off loans has been pending for long. The Supreme Court had once taken up the matter, but so far there is no progress. Hundreds of billions of rupees written off by various governments decades ago remain unrecovered.

If clawed back, this money can help improve the economic health of the country and reduce dependence on borrowings, both local as well as foreign.

Then, many cases are pending with the National Accountability Bureau against the ruling party and opposition leaders. Even Prime Minister Pervaiz Ashraf is an accused in the rental power plants case.

These cases will not be decided fairly as long as the PPP is in power.

Everybody knows that our investigation agencies or courts are influenced by people in power and they are likely to take a lenient view of cases against them.

The PML-N had filed a number of references against Benazir Bhutto after her first stint in power. A senior lawyer was paid a fee of Rs 14 million to prosecute the former prime minister.

At the outset, the prosecutor argued the case very enthusiastically to establish that the charges were very serious and the accused should be awarded maximum punishment. But, the cases were still undecided when general elections were held in 1993, which returned the PPP to power.

The pending references were sent to a judge (who was among those now proposed by the PPP for the post of the chief election commissioner). He threw all the references out, acquitting Benazir Bhutto. Interestingly, the prosecutor (who is no more in this world) started telling the court that the allegations were frivolous.

Another matter which should be taken up before the general elections is that of the money of Pakistani leaders lying in various foreign banks. The PML-N leaders allege that President Zardari has ill-gotten $60 million in Swiss banks. They say the money must be brought back without delay.

The PPP leaders allege that the PML-N leader has money and assets abroad which should also be brought back to Pakistan.

There are several others who have huge deposits abroad.

Everyone who has taken money out of the country should be asked to bring it back before the elections. And those failing to do so should not only be proceeded against but also be disallowed to contest the election or hold any public office.

Another important issue which should be taken up by the interim government is that of the local elections. The local representatives had completed their terms a few years ago and their elections are overdue since then.

But, unfortunately, no provincial government has done much to discharge this constitutional duty.

These elections must be held at all costs before the general elections. Otherwise, the party that won the general elections will drive all winners into its fold, which will not be fair.

The interim government should also take steps to bring an end to the monopolisation of politics by a few families. Unless the system of political cartelisation is brought to end, the elections will be just a means of bringing the same people back to power.

At present, the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI are making competing claims about their victory in the elections. Neither PPP nor the PML-N can take the aforesaid steps after returning to power. And if the PTI gets a chance to rule, it will not be able to grapple with these problems immediately because it will have many other things to do.

This is no argument that the elections are the best way to hold the politicians accountable. This may be so elsewhere, not in Pakistan.

Here, there are many who enter the field of politics with targets of making a particular amount of money over the period they stay in power. And once the target is achieved, it is irrelevant for them whether they are re-elected or rejected by the electorate.