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Three days before the nation goes to polls, defying all claims about their postponement, we want to see what makes an election free and fair. It is not something specific to this election; all general elections in this country — beginning even with the first one in 1970 — are said to have been manipulated to effect certain results.

We have come a long way since, and yet the allegations of pre-poll, election-day and post-poll rigging fail to die down. The second general election after 1970 that came in 1977 also became controversial on charges of rigging, leading to the worst martial law this country has seen and lasting for no less than 11 years.

It took the country some time to figure out how to hold a fair election. The solution it sought was a caretaker government that would do the needful, without realising that it needed an empowered election commission and not the so-called neutral caretaker government. Till today, long after there is a consensus on the efficacy of an empowered election commission, the country still has a caretaker government. In our Special Report today, there is an attempt to problematise the issue of a caretaker government, to conclude that it’s nothing but a flawed idea.

There is a lot of talk about a strong election commission but, like democracy, this is a work in progress, a process so to speak. There have been systemic improvements of huge proportions and, as I.A.Rehman suggests in his article, “these steps have greatly reduced polling day wrongs”.

The only problem is the context, of civil-military tensions, of manipulation of elections by non-elected forces. That context is relevant even in these elections; the interference is more blatant and transparent. It makes a mockery of accountability and puts only the political class under scrutiny, making the whole exercise suspect.

Read also: free, fair, et cetera

Our Special Report this week is an attempt to highlight everything that stands in the way of a free and fair election, hoping to right this wrong forever from our polity, and changing the context altogether for a purer democratic ideal.


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