Teachers’ Decision: An Extraordinary Setback For Elections
Two weeks before the upcoming general elections, the Government Teachers’ Association (G.T.A.), the biggest union of public school teachers in Balochistan, hasannounced that its members will not perform election duty on May 11 due to security concerns. The G.T.A. says as many as 18,441 government school teachers in 11 Baloch-dominated districts of Balochistan will not offer their services on the election day despite a call from the government. The Election Commission of Pakistan (E.C.P.) heavily depends on these teachers to conduct the administrative business at various polling stations. They perform a number of tasks,including assisting voters to correctly go through all processes of voting. They also help in voters’ identity verification and ensuring transparency during the voting time.
The G.T.A. decision has the potential to deeply alarm the federal and provincial governments.
The G.TA. comprises of the employers of the Department of Education which means they receive their salary from the government. The government trains and prepares them weeks or months ahead of the election day. This decision is a clear expression of no trust from the government’s own people in the state of preparedness for the elections. The teachers rightly argue that if the government has not been able to protect highly powerful political figures and the offices of political parties then how come the teachers, who will be performing election duty would, be safe. We appreciate the G.T.A.’s decision because every trade union is responsible to think about the safety and welfare of its members. At this time, every teacher who is forced by the government to perform election duty would be put at high risk.
The G.TA. has actually taken a very pragmatic stance on the matter. It says that teachers who are satisfied with the government security arrangements and wish to continue their election day tasks, should do so. However, the G.T.A. will not either force someone to perform or refrain from their duty. The G.T.A. justifiably expects that it would not be blamed in the future for not taking precautionary measures for the safety of the teachers in case some unpleasant events occur.
On the government’s side, the most expected and harsh reaction can be a possible warning to fire all teachers who will not show up on duty on May 11th. But it is not possible for the government to sack more than 18,000 teachers at the same time. The G.T.A. is one of the strongest unions in Balochistan and they will paralyze the whole government. The government should admit its failure to restore peace in Balochistan ahead of the general elections. The decision of the European Union, for instance, to not visit Balochistan for election monitoring clearly indicates that nobody is satisfied with the current state of election preparations. The government should not blackmail the teachers and let them make their collective decision based on their interests.
Unfortunately, the government is running out of time. One should prepare to see a bizarre reaction from the government if the teachers continue their protest. In a worst case scenario, the army may be called to replace the teachers. Are they trained to do so? Or, can they be prepared within two weeks to hold the elections? We will know in the next few days.
Originally published in The Baloch Hal on April 28, 2013