Elections are the crucible where democratic credentials of a country are put to test. In a few months from now, we are going to witness assembly elections in many states. Holding free and fair elections is perhaps more important than the result itself. After all, the result in a democracy is nothing, as the cynics quip, but the tyranny of the majority.
Elections are instruments of accountability, whether at the local level or at the parliamentary level. We could tire from the unending stream of high-decibel electioneering in India, but it is true that the one thing that scares our lawmakers is our power to vote them out. And that power will be exercised, one way or the other, in the next six to eight months in Gujarat, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura. Waiting in line are Delhi and Rajasthan where assembly elections will be held by the end of next year.
Not just within the country, the region around us is also going to celebrate the festival of democracy. Fresh elections to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal will be held on November 22 this year. The term of the Constituent Assembly expired in May, after the Nepalese Supreme Court rejected any further extensions. The Constituent Assembly, which was elected for a two-year period in 2008 to draft a new constitution, could not complete the task. With elections approaching, tempers are rising. Last week, supporters of Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ clashed with supporters of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, preventing the latter from speaking at a political gathering. Besides regional factionalism, which forms a major part of Nepalese politics, allegations of Indian meddling in its internal affairs are a constant theme in Kathmandu’s corridors of power.
Next up is Maldives. Deposed President Mohammad Nasheed and pro-democracy activists want snap polls held by December this year, but President Mohamed Waheed Hassan shows no signs of holding them before the originally scheduled dates in July 2013. International observers such as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), supported by the US and the EU, have backed calls to hold elections by the end of 2012. Nasheed has appealed to India several times to use its influence in the region to hold early elections. India says that it is “monitoring the situation.”
Parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for February 2013 but there are rumours that in his Independence Day speech on August 14, 2012, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf could announce an earlier date. Hectic political parleys continue between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N to formally announce a roadmap for elections. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is determined to pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, but the shrewd survivor that he is, Zardari will have no hesitation in using one more Prime Minister as a sacrificial lamb, as he did with Gilani. The X-factor in these elections, which could be three, six or eight months away, is Imran Khan. Nobody is sure whether the former cricketer’s impressive rallies will turn into votes or not. To compound the confusion, Hafiz Saeed and his gang from Difa-e-Pakistan could also take the political plunge. However, the recent Supreme Court hearings on ISI funding for political parties have reaffirmed what was always known — that free, fair and transparent elections have never been held in Pakistan.
From the turbulence of Pakistani politics to the placidity of the hill kingdom of Bhutan on our East. In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy holding its first successful general elections. Not much political activity takes place in this peaceful country, but the rise of Communists and the gradual tilt towards China should shake India out of its lethargy. India will have to keep a close watch on the trends emerging from the elections in 2013.
And before all these elections, there is one mother of all elections far, far away from us, watched by the entire world because it elects into office the most powerful person on earth. The US presidential elections are to be held on November 6, 2012. The presumption is that they will be free and fair. No more hanging and dimpled chads. But as Nelson Mandela once said, “If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.” Oh well!
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter@smitaprakash