Slowing down democracy
FOR democracy to work in any country, elections must be free, fair and held within the constitutionally stipulated time frame. This, unfortunately, has not been the case in Pakistan, where frequent military interventions have overthrown civilian governments adding to democracy’s slowdown, even regression. Today, too, with the PDM gunning for the PTI-led administration’s ouster, the root cause of the crisis is the perceived lack of legitimacy of the polls and the opposition’s refusal to accept the rulers.
Indeed, it has been a shaky journey ever since the first genuinely democratic polls were held in Pakistan 50 years ago in 1970. However, due to non-acceptance of the Awami League’s mandate as the biggest party in parliament, just a year after the historic elections the country’s erstwhile eastern wing seceded. Yet it appears few lessons were learnt from that tragedy. Interference and manipulation of the electoral process has continued despite this sobering episode. King’s parties and wobbly electoral alliances are cobbled together to counter those political forces which are perceived to be straying from a narrative promoted by unelected quarters.
Apart from the establishment’s interference, losing parties have consistently raised questions about the legitimacy of election results. There are several examples such as the PNA’s rejection of the PPP’s debatable victory in 1977, the PPP and PML contesting the results when either party won in the 1990s, and decades later, Imran Khan crying foul over the 2013 election results, accusing the PML-N of rigging. Massive rallies and a dharna in Islamabad were organised by the PTI. Today, history is repeating itself as the PDM slams the PTI government. Frequently, manipulative practices by the parties, often with the silent approval of the establishment, have discredited the electoral process. For example, at the height of its power, the MQM was widely accused of ballot stuffing in Karachi. Other parties have indulged in similar practices, especially in areas where ‘influentials’ hold sway.
To ensure that the country has a credible electoral system several things are needed. Firstly, all forces should realise that the beauty of democracy lies in an electoral process and rule that is allowed to evolve unhindered. Let the people choose their representatives, and let them complete their terms. Secondly, genuine electoral reform is sorely needed, so that the process is seen to be transparent, and accusations of electoral fraud are reduced to a minimum. This can best be done within parliament, through consensus on electoral reforms and an independent election commission accepted by all political players. Thirdly, parties themselves need to practise democracy and promote democratic norms within their ranks, instead of indulging in dynastic politics, or siding with unelected quarters for paltry gains. Unless all stakeholders take electoral reforms seriously, the Pakistani voter may end up becoming alienated from the voting process.
GUESSTIMATES are no substitute for hard data. Efforts to improve development indicators must be based on comprehensive, granular information that highlights weak spots and challenges. Initiatives can then be tailored to the situation on ground, thereby saving time and money. Without this spadework, campaigns cannot achieve their objectives or be sustainable. It is therefore heartening that for the first time a wide-ranging and in-depth survey has been conducted into maternal mortality in Pakistan, a tragedy of huge proportions that has dogged this country for decades. According to the findings, overall, 12pc of deaths in the past three years among ever-married women between 15 and 49 years of age were on account of maternal causes. That is not to say the indicators have not improved: they have, as the recently launched survey shows. The maternal mortality rate in 1990-91 was 234 per 100,000 live births; it is now 186. Antenatal care has shown a marked improvement over the last three decades: ANC coverage by a skilled provider went up from 26pc in 1990-91 to 91pc in 2019. Similarly, delivery of health facilities has shown a dramatic increase from 14pc in 1990-91 to 71pc last year.
Nevertheless, this is a journey with a long road ahead. The fact is the MMR must be brought down further to 70 deaths per 100,000 by 2030 if Pakistan is to meet Sustainable Development Goal 3.1. Several changes must be effected in order to bring this about. For one, the fact that 29pc of live births still take place at home places mothers and babies at risk in case of any complications. The most common complications that women reported experiencing during delivery are prolonged labour pains, laceration in the vagina, the baby did not breath and the baby was in breech position. Delay in reaching health facilities is among the leading causes of MMR: this is also borne out by the fact that the MMR ratio is 26pc higher in the rural areas, with its far from optimum health delivery mechanisms, than in urban areas. The differences in MMR between various parts of the country also show massive disparity. For example, in Balochistan 298 women in 100,000 live births die, while the figure in Punjab is 157 per 100,000 live births. MMR is one part of a bigger picture showing Pakistan’s lack of investment in its human resource. Perhaps this survey can help change that in one crucial aspect.
South Africa tour
THE recent confirmation of the South African cricket team’s tour to Pakistan after 13 years is a fabulous piece of news that will boost the country’s image as a safe venue for international sporting events. The tour, which starts next month, comprises two Test matches and three T20 games. It holds much significance as the first tour by a leading side since March 2009 when international cricket in Pakistan was suspended following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. For a nation obsessed with cricket, the decade-long isolation has been agonising. The PCB’s efforts to restore international cricket to the country did bear fruit with teams visiting from Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, the West Indies and Kenya. Pakistan also hosted World XI and MCC teams in the past few years. However, major sides such as England, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa continued to reject tours to Pakistan, citing security concerns.
South Africa knows cricket isolation better than most after undergoing a 21-year ban on international cricket from 1970 to 1991 under the apartheid regime. They are looking forward to visiting Pakistan and will be in full strength. Some exhilarating matches are expected. Having said that, the visiting side — that won their last series 1-0 here in 2007 — have recently been struggling against top teams, mainly because of a strict quota system which allows the national team to have only five white cricketers and an average of six players of colour in a season, with two mandatory black South Africans in the playing 11. That has seen some highly talented white players migrating from South Africa in a bid to qualify for other international teams like England and Australia. Pakistan, on the other hand, is in a rebuilding phase under new skipper Babar Azam. And though they will be looking to avenge the 2007 loss against South Africa at home, a lot will depend on how the side fares in their upcoming Test and T20 series against New Zealand.