Dawn Editorial 12th February 2024

Measles spike

IT is an unfortunate reality that in Pakistan, far too many children are afflicted by, and, in fact, lose their lives to, vaccine-preventable diseases. Amongst these ailments is measles, and as a report in this paper has pointed out, there has been a sustained surge in the number of measles cases reported in Karachi over the past few weeks. According to medical experts, 106 children died due to measles at just two of the city’s hospitals last year. Fatal cases of diphtheria have also been reported. Clearly, these lives could have been saved had there been better immunisation coverage in the metropolis. As one expert said, “primary immunisation is the only way forward”.

A range of life-threatening diseases are covered under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation. Both measles and diphtheria, as well as polio, are covered in this scheme. Yet the challenge is reaching all the children. Partly because of vaccine hesitancy, and partly due to bureaucratic inefficiency, all targeted children are not receiving the doses that would keep them safe from deadly and debilitating ailments. In this regard, Punjab has the best numbers, as around 90pc of children in the province have been inoculated against vaccine-preventable diseases. The figures for other provinces need much improvement. For example, in Sindh, 68pc of the children are fully immunised, while the figure for Balochistan is an abysmal 38pc. As Unicef has noted, 25pc of child deaths can be prevented through vaccinations. Therefore, health authorities in all provinces need to ramp up their respective EPI drives. Of course, in some areas there are dangerous obstacles, such as threats to polio teams. But these need to be overcome by engaging community elders, and neutralising violent elements where militants threaten health workers. Also, Punjab’s best practices can be replicated by the other provinces to improve vaccine coverage. The goal should be a healthy generation of children fully vaccinated against major ailments.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

Glaring irregularities

FRANTIC negotiations have started behind closed doors over the possible configurations of power, and some quarters will be eager to see the election chapter closed, with results accepted as fait accompli.

However, the citizenry — of which many braved a long campaign of intimidation and navigated several hurdles to exercise their vote — seems in no mood to meekly move on. It has good reason not to.

There were significant irregularities in this election that voters must be given answers for, and it is important that their concerns are promptly addressed by the ECP. The most pressing issue is what seems to be the outright theft of the public mandate in some parts of the country, as evidenced by the large discrepancies between various reported results.

There are growing voices of concern, including in the international community, over why some of the ECP’s announced results differ so widely from the personal tallies kept by the candidates as well as the unofficial, parallel counts maintained by TV channels through their independent sources.

Observers’ suspicions have been further strengthened by some obvious anomalies in the Form 47s released by ROs for certain constituencies, as well as the inordinately long time it has taken to ‘finalise’ results.

It is strange that, for most parts of the country, the results reported by the channels seem to closely match the results announced by the ECP much later; however, in many major urban constituencies, where media presence and resources are, in fact, the strongest, the divergence is extremely large. Clearly, something went awry during the results tabulation process in these constituencies, which needs to be promptly investigated and addressed.

Though investigations will get tricky in places where candidates were never given Form 45 — a serious irregularity that has been highlighted by several poll observers — there seem to be quite a few candidates who are in a position to mount a strong challenge.

These include, among others, several PTI-backed independents in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Islamabad, some of whom saw comfortable victories turn into overnight defeats. At least one, Salman Akram Raja in Lahore, has already contested his RO’s result in court, and others will likely follow suit.

Before things get messier, the ECP should take action. The present CEC had taken strict and principled action over the February 2021 rigging of the Daska by-poll, starting with withholding its result. Similar action is needed right now, especially in constituencies where losing candidates have evidence to make a strong claim.

Moreover, wherever the rules call for it, the ECP must allow a recount. It should also release any information that can help auditors cross-check its results. This is an opportunity for the institution to restore its credibility. With international pressure growing, it must act quickly.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

Independents’ test

THE political landscape of Pakistan is witnessing an extraordinary scenario. Following the Feb 8 general elections, PTI-backed independent candidates face some difficult choices, which challenge the conventional dynamics of party politics. This development will surely herald a period of intense political manoeuvring. The ECP’s results, though still provisional, indicate a seismic shift. For the first time in the nation’s history, a party-based election has seen the largest number of independents clinching victory. This outcome, unexpected by many, especially the powerful quarters who believed that sidelining PTI and denying them their poll symbol would change the course of the election, is a clear message from the populace. Despite the loss of the symbol, the people have spoken, pinning their hopes on individuals who they think will represent the party. The critical question now is whether the PTI can retain these independents amid the frenzy that is about to ensue with major parties attempting to woo them over to their side. The lure of ministerial portfolios, chairmanships, and other perks is powerful, and the invisible pressures exerted by various quarters are not to be underestimated. While those unaffiliated with the PTI may naturally gravitate towards those forming government, the loyalty of the party’s independents and their resistance to external influences will be a test of their political mettle. Yielding to temptation or intimidation raises the question: can these independents genuinely represent their constituents?

The ECP’s present framework, allowing the independents only a three-day window to join a party post-notification, may inadvertently contribute to such opportunistic politics rather than fostering a stable political culture. The commission must allow for more flexibility in its rules, and give PTI’s independents enough time to hold intra-party elections, regain their symbol and join the House as a cohesive unit. It is not without precedent, as the ECP granted the ANP a symbol without conducting intra-party polls. Currently, there are reports that the PTI’s independents may join the Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen so they may raise their numbers with the addition of reserved seats and contend for leader of the House. Whatever they decide, the path chosen by these independents will not only determine the immediate political landscape but also set a precedent for future elections. Their decisions, whether driven by principle or pragmatism, will shape our democracy for years to come.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024


February 20, 2024

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