To some, Imran Khan’s politics of protest and agitation raises more concern than the government’s corruption and ineptness. Critics of protests and anti government movements hide behind big words like “democracy” and “constitution”. In their enlightened view, regardless of Imran’s allegations, the constitution and democracy side with the elected government. Constitution has provided a method for electing governments and PMLN acquired power following that very method. Rigging – as colossal as alleged – has not directly been addressed in the constitution. There is no provision that speaks for massive rigging that, if proven, would practically render the entire exercise of elections invalid. In accordance with prevalent laws, anyone or any party aggrieved by electoral rigging has to approach the election tribunals through petitions and consequently superior courts through appeals, filing separate petitions for each constituency. If rigging is proven the tribunal or courts may order fresh elections in that particular constituency.
So why did Imran Khan opt for protest and agitation instead of supreme judiciary and constitution for redressal of his grievance?
First off let us be clear that the politics of agitation and protest is in no way undemocratic. Calling PTI’s anti government move undemocratic is a frivolous accusation and demeans the spirit of democracy.
Secondly, Imran could have asked his contesting candidates to file election petitions in all constituencies but he did not. Probably because of his belief that more or less all constituencies were rigged and demands a collective relief. In the absence of any specific provision the Supreme Court can take cognizance of a matter of grave significance under the umbrella of Article 184 (3); a provision often used in the not too distant past by the infamous Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Supreme Court could order inquiry into the allegations pertaining to massive electoral rigging, but it did not.
Imran Khan started off with asking for a probe into four sample constituencies to ascertain if there was any weight in his allegations, he was denied any such probe by the government. It was after the apparent silence of the constitution and Judiciary, and complete ignorance of his allegations on part of the government that Imran resorted to protest rallies and sit ins.
What if the constitution spoke clearly on matter of mass electoral rigging and vested power in the Supreme Court to declare an election null. Is there any way a government could maneuver its way around the supreme law and court of the country? Does the ruling party have that tendency?
Apparently our constitution weighs heavier on opposition benches than on treasury. The blatant disregard of Article 140-A by the Pakistan People’s Party in Sindh and PMLN in Punjab for the past five years is enough to determine how sacred the supreme law is. As for the Supreme Court, the federal, Sindh and Punjab governments – of PPP and PMLN – have completely ignored Supreme Court orders when the said orders were not suited to their interests. In the matter of Local Government elections – that are mandatory under Article 140-A of the Constitution – both the constitution and Supreme Court seem to be irrelevant. In July 2013, the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the Federal and provincial governments to hold LG elections in September 2013. Needless to say the said direction was ignored. The Supreme Court then issued another direction seeking LG elections before 15th November, 2014. This direction met similar fate. Same disregard for judicial authority was seen when Supreme Court ordered the government to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner before 28th of October, 2014. On non-compliance of said order SC extended the deadline till 13th of November. Consistent non-compliance of SC orders forced it to extend the deadline till 25th November, 1st December and then 5th December. The new Chief Election Commissioner was finally appointed, only after SC threatened the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition of contempt notices.
Thus in the absence of constitutional supremacy, obedience to judiciary, adherence by the government to legitimate reservations – pertaining to general elections of 2013 – of the second largest political party of Pakistan, how could it have been prudent for Imran to opt for the legal course to challenge something as significant as an entire general elections? Why shouldn’t he opt for gathering public support against the government instead. Public protest and mass movements have proven effective in the past when it came to ousting a powerful President/Chief of the Army Staff. Definitely more effective than any provision of the constitution or orders of the Supreme Court.
When the government undermines the authority of the Supreme Court and sanctity of the constitution, it cannot seek legitimacy by hiding behind these instruments in times of need.