Not too late for anti-rigging protests for some PTI supporters

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on May 12, 2014.

Islamabad – The transparency and fairness of the 2013 general elections appear to remain controversial for some political parties even a year after Pakistanis turned up at their local polling stations to vote.

On Sunday, supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which was quick to raise rigging allegations after the May 2013 elections that brought the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to power, gathered at the Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad to participate in an anti-rigging rally.

The PTI, which polled around 7.7 million or the second-highest number of votes in the elections according to the Election Commission of Pakistan, claims it was robbed of its mandate through rigging and its complaints to the election tribunals have not been dealt with efficiently.

The political party’s workers, who travelled from different parts of the country to participate in the Sunday rally, mostly agreed it was not too late to protest the rigging allegations. But they appeared to have divergent views on the justification for the protest.

For some, participation in the rally was a natural response to the call of the party leadership, or PTI chief Imran Khan to be more precise.

“Khan promised his party workers that if the rigging allegations are not addressed by the authorities, he will stage a protest,” said Salahuddin, a business owner from Chitral who said he travelled for 22 hours to reach the capital. “He is being true to his word and I am following it.”

Other rally participants realized a year was a long time between the fact and a full-blown protest, so they thought about reasons.

“It’s true that a lot of time has passed,” said Zaheer Abbas Baloch, a car dealer from Multan. “But it might be that the party leadership needed this much time to collect proof of rigging in the general elections.”

For Baloch and many others at the gathering, the ruling party’s one-year progress report also provided a cause to repeat PTI’s election campaign slogan of “change” — the energy crisis, inflation persist, according to PTI supporters.

“The problem is that the N-league has not delivered on its promises,” Baloch said. “The concerns of the poor have not been resolved. There should be a change ultimately.”

Alisha, a PTI worker from Bahawalpur who wished to be identified by her first name only, agreed.

“PML-N’s performance has not been exemplary,” she said. “There has to be change, either the government is toppled or the government changes its indifferent attitude towards the masses.”

If rigging is proved in some constituencies, it can cast a shadow of doubt over the entire electoral exercise. But, by Sunday afternoon, the PTI leadership had maintained it is not demanding mid-term elections, just a recount in four constituencies in Lahore which were won by PML-N.

There were, however, quite a few PTI supporters who felt strongly about fresh elections. Salahuddin said if rigging is proved in the four constituencies, it will expose the PML-N government and Tabarik Shah, a 17-year-old from Rawalpindi’s Dhoke Hassu who is not even of voting age yet, said he was open to mid-term elections.

“People of Pakistan understand politics now and they have enough political awareness to not be fooled by corrupt politicians,” Shah, who is a student and an air-conditioning repairman, said. “If people elected the government last year, they can dislodge it this year too.”

But Abdul Waheed, a civil servant from Lahore, said the anti-rigging demonstration is less in the party’s self-interest and more for the greater good.

“The last thing we can do is to use our right to peaceful protest, so rigging is never repeated again in future elections, including the local government elections,” Waheed said.

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