Always trumpeting at top of his lungs and with prig posture, Prime Minister Imran Khan drumbeats corruption as the sole malice that impedes the development of Pakistan. He peddles this discourse from UNGA Speeches to every media presser with a flagstaff of righteousness in his hand. His cabinet agenda points; his every meeting; and his every talk must necessarily contain this word ‘corruption’ to make them all valid and appropriate. Any contrary viewpoint from close ranks could lead to his wrath. Any alternate viewpoints from independent quarters and they are all quickly snubbed as corruption apologists at bare minimal or a bettors and beneficiaries at most who should be dealt with iron hand.
And yes, upon clenching this premier position, Khan has used his iron hands indiscriminately, aggressively and arbitrarily through likes of an infamous SAPM; and many blind ideologue stalwarts. The information ministry and brigade of spokespersons back every action against opponents and will make harangues nearly every day. This juggernaut of anticorruption drive is used against few of his old friends perhaps for posturing purposes and against his foes with hope that it will politically quell them. No NRO is to be given to anyone and Khan can quit power but not his dogma. Therefore, there are no places for doves around the prime minister to counter balance the blatant excesses this narrative has caused on state of Pakistan. All hawks around him deploy this device to name and shame opponents in order to remain in good books of the chief executive. Many of his aides with reasonable reputations have also become predictable, uncouth and intransigent as human beings.
Unarguably the mantra of corruption has given the prime minister massive political dividends. After all, he reached the acme point of his life on this word alone. He has thrived on this prattle and it genuinely helped him gain strong acceptance within sizeable segment of populace and a proactive nudge from power corridors. The Clean Captain had been deemed as a messiah for the poor downtrodden people who longed for a promised future free from shackles of reeking corruption of those who had been in power for far too long. This simple political calculus he thinks can make him grab at power in 2023 as well. A perception of incorruptible and certified man of integrity is all that matters to be at the top slot.
This arithmetic isn’t working out completely right. Three years down the lane since Khan unleashed anti-graft agencies on his opponents and after continuous whipping of state horses against those he deems as real threat seems to have exhausted the state machinery. More particularly, the three law enforcement agencies FIA; NAB; and Anti-Corruption Establishments are over spending themselves way beyond their legally defined scopes after been deployed on full throttle for many years. FBR in its own office with lethargic officials are also running a separate show and dispatching notices by thousands. Investigation Officers with half cooked and rushed references and partial challans are panting from one court room to another stretching meanings of statutory words to their fishing expeditions and offering long explanations without many accurate precedents. Justice is not being hurried for Khan’s opponents and that adds to the exasperation of the elected emperor. Convictions are not being handed down conveniently on presentation of prosecution evidences despite a defective anti-graft law in the field. The marks of performances are thus simple enough: arm twist and make people cough up money by admissions or make them suffer the long grinding mill of the procedure of criminal justice system.
Other performance matrix is that allegedly occupied state lands are recovered and its market value is labelled as recovery of corruption. It is just a coincidence that many of the so-called recovered properties have postal addresses of his adversaries.
This continuous practice has now started to produce potent and functional cracks within the law enforcement agencies and state apparatus. Such is a state power. It requires constant balancing. Exerting too less a power make regime appear meek and vulnerable but excessive use also make it reckless and prone to crash. Saber-rattling should thus be kept away from politics. Threat of accountability against politicians, select judges, bureaucrats, businessmen and several disliked are now causing reverse effects. It has nearly stalled his governance. Societal polarization has reached all times high. Something which is dangerous for a diverse and heterogeneous societal mixture like ours. Khan can only speak at and cannot speak to political opponents which at bare minimal is imperative for national harmony and collective causes. Inter and intra state relationships are also at peril. Political opponents have been turned into hostile enemies. Reliance on bureaucratic machinery which had always worked on snail pace now ‘looks busy but do nearly nothing.’ There are reluctant procurements and more public contracting that end up non-responsive more than ever before. Coupled with pandemic and slow growth, ease of doing business stand difficult. Legislations are stalled and government is publishing ordinances by the day to run affairs by its choice. Accountability narrative has hit the plateau. The worst is that meaning of corruption is also gradually being corrupted. The idea of corruption in minds of populace isn’t subsiding a bit even if not exponentially increased. The points of citizen and state interactions continue to be the most infectious places where palm greasing exist as a norm. The brewing scandals popping up in the present regime are exactly on similar lines on which he has accused his rivals. It seems that the greatest proponent of drive against corruption in Pakistan has harmed it the most by his arrogant antics, constant interference and overuse.
So how to further go about it? Is corruption by politicians not an issue for Pakistan? Whether Khan’s divisive politics under garb of accountability yielding benefits for people? Can a hostile political environment be allowed to continue indefinitely that may have further state stability repercussions? Can there be real prospects of political accountability by people of Pakistan? Should elected representatives be continuously ousted through judicial process within their tenure in a fledgling state like ours? Who will hold those accountable who are making others accountable?
Some of these are genuinely big questions that beg major scholarships. However little bits on some aspects of above are hereunder:
On the Institutional design board, we are told by giants like Fukuyama that there are two kinds of phenomenon of corruption. The first relates to extraction of rents and the second is patronage. As resources are scarce or controlled and government has ability to tax them, officials could create artificial obstacles. This leads to distortions in economies and people will add premium to access the resources or benefits and choose politics as route to wealth. The second is reciprocal that involve favors given by patron in exchange for support or loyalty. It exists in all democratic societies and political accountability can lead to its suppression. A political choice if exist with an informed voter could defeat an interest group. Interestingly, there can be a clean and incompetent government vs. corrupt ones that provide efficient goods and services. A highly mobilized state machinery can lead to more wastages but also deliver optimal and capable results. Good governance ends up becoming paramount for citizenry and corruption considerations may end up minimized.
Transparency initiatives in states through anti-graft agencies and broad awareness programs along with ‘big fish’ arrests have not solely been able to curtail or subside corruption. Fukuyama argues that sources of corruption are deeply political and require grassroots’ awareness, political ownerships and a broad consensus in the absence of which super structure falls apart. Therefore, a viable political strategy with stakeholders stand paramount in transformative changes. A state with poor contract enforcements and weak property rights along with inefficient judicial system will only end up stopping growth and not lessening of any corruption.
An upshot of above is that tagging opposition as corrupt will not help in its eradication or allow Khan to perpetuate rule. Kleptocrats can exist in the form of permanent institutions as well. Like it or not, Pakistan’s instability and social harmony doesn’t lie in using corruption to silence your enemies. A nation may come to an utter collapse if minimal power framework between brokers is not persistently practiced.
Electronic Voting Machines or as aptly termed by the Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, Mian Shehbaz Sharif, Evil Vicious Machines are portrayed as the new saviours of democracy and the epitome of fair and free elections. This according to a party which came into power via an election marred with allegations of widespread fraud in 2018. Let us examine the facts regarding the EVMS separate of the hype that has been created.
According to the European Parliamentary Research Services out of 193 countries only 8 use EVMS these include the United States of America, India and Brazil.
Although paper balloting has had its fair share of controversies around the world, this does not mean that electronic voting is devoid of any issues of trust and altercations. The United States of America has been facing similar controversies regularly. Donald Trump’s election to the White House in 2016 was marred with Russian hacking allegations and interference. These were later confirmed by multiple reports and inquiries. Last year, in 2020, Joe Biden’s ascension to the Oval Office also had its proportion of controversies that arose due to electronic voting.
India termed as the largest democracy in the world has been using electronic voting machines nationwide since 2004. After EVM tampering allegations sparked a massive row, the Indian Supreme Court directed the authorities in 2013 to Introduce Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail In order to improve voter confidence. That did not prevent machine tampering allegations in the Lok Sabha 2019 elections.
There are several countries in the world which had adopted voting via machines only later to revert to paper ballots. Germany, Netherland, Ireland and Paraguay are amongst them. The German Constitutional Court in 2009 struck down the use of electronic voting machines on the basis that elections are required to be public in nature and the procedures that are understandable to the average citizen should be adhered to. This decision by the court, stressing the need for transparency in the electoral process without specialist technical knowledge for the average citizen, effectively ended Germany’s usage of electronic voting.
The Dutch forsook electronic voting machines in 2007 after using them for a good 40 odd years. It is noteworthy that no political party campaigned against the machines. It was the first internet provider company of the Netherlands along with some computer experts who started a campaign ‘We do not trust voting Computers’ which culminated in the abandonment of voting machines usage.
Every country which is using electronic voting machines now, or had dabbled with their usage in the past, took decades to implement it on national level. Brazil first started using electronic voting machines in soccer club’s elections. India first used EVIVIs in 1982 and took 22 years to implement them nationwide in Lok Sabha elections of 2004. The same is the case with other nations.
Here, in Pakistan, the government is adamant to conduct the next general elections on EVMs. For that it set aside 37 objections raised by the Election Commission of Pakistan, bulldozed the bill introducing EVMs by flaunting all the parliamentary norms and procedures.
Also PTI did not bother to develop a broad based consensus with the opposition parties. On the contrary, when PML-N was in power, it took all the stakeholders on board for developing a consensus on the Election Act 2017 for which the committee working under Mr. Ishaq Dar held 117 meetings and unanimously passed the electoral reforms package.
The cheerleaders of the fair and free elections through EVMs are the same who were caught red handed in rigging and stealing the by polls held in Daska, NA-75, through ‘pre-planned scheme’ according to a report by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Any electoral system reform which does not have the trust of the general public and other stakeholders is a recipe for disaster and a call for chaos. It will be rightly perceived as an attempt to usurp another election by fraudulent means.