Ever since the world wide web came into being and governments around the world slowly but surely realized the adverse effects of communication on regimes which tend to sweep uncomfortable things under the carpet there have been efforts made to control the flow of information.
The problem however is that information and attempts to block it nowadays is like water hitting porous sand. As the mediums multiply daily and the flow of data becomes quicker and quicker with the gadgets we use spreading like rabbits around our lives it has become hireto impossible to ebb this flow no matter what any one tries. In the midst of all this we have our Pakistani government which although has provisions in its constitution (article 18) to protect electronic commerce but still maintains the need to try again and again to exert control over a medium which is proving to be a pain in its keister.
Is this agony due to the fact that there are bad guys roaming social networks like whatsapp and viber and plotting things that are against national security? I suppose some of it maybe but to think those same tech equipped bad guys would not be able to side step a ban via proxy is somewhat un intelligent to me. Also more dim witted seems the idea that bad guys exist in sindh only and thus this region must be the only one subjected to this proposed ban.
Frankly speaking Pakistan is to me a pretty overheated pressure cooker of emotion since quite some time. One can see it in incidents of road rage when we are pushed slightly in ramzan or around our daily lives as women when we walk down the street to raping stares. Social media seems to be the only place left where it is even slightly safe to engage in healthy discourse over issues which plague most of us at some point or the other in our lives. Taking away this medium would to me have the same effect as removing the steam valve from a pressure cooker. Do we want to know what would happen if our society implodes on itself in a fit of frustrated rage? Things would go out of control…the same control that our government or any government does not want to slip from its hands.
Without control there can exist no leadership, without leadership or law there is only anarchy. We have been teetering at the brink of this anarchy for quite some time now. If I was the government I would be taking all steps possible to de escalate the growing anger Pakistanis feel towards it not push them over the brink by banning their favourite means of communication. Specially in lieu of the fact that the past bans and attempts to block sms, facebook, twitter and youtube have not really resulted in a slew of terrorist arrests and trials.
“Those who give up their essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” – Benjamin Franklin

The views expressed by this guest blogger and the comments given by any visitor do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the pakvoter.

The election in 2013 will be remembered for couple of reasons in the history of Pakistan, one of which is the high turnout. The role played by Election Commission of Pakistan in this regard has to be applauded. It was ECP, under the leadership of Honorable Justice (R) Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, which worked day and night to increase registered voters all across Pakistan. Figures show remarkable increase in registered voters as compared to the 2008 general elections i.e. an increase of 5,393,420 registered votes.

NADRA played a key role in supporting ECP for increasing registered voters. Among the various interventions, NADRA, in accordance with orders from Supreme Court of Pakistan, issued CNIC to the transgender community of Pakistan. Additional efforts were made by NADRA with support of UNWOMEN and ECP to increase women votes in 2013 elections. These efforts were fruitful and a total of 37,597,415 female votes were registered for 2013 election as compared to 48,592,387 male votes. It is estimated that even the women turnout was higher this time, keeping in view the overall 55% turnout. Although not many female candidates made it to assemblies as compared to 2008 elections, it is believed that women participation did increase manifold. While a lot has to be done to increase women participation, there is still more that is required, especially in terms of commutation to polling stations on election days, as due to lack of transport and other cultural and religious obligations women do not make it polling station to cast their vote.

NADRA also enrolled transgender community and issued them with CNICs. This move came after a Supreme Court ruling instructing both NADRA and ECP to acknowledge status of transgender community and their right to vote as citizens of Pakistan. NADRA figures show approx., 600 transgender male and female members were issued CNIC. This may not be true representation of transgender community in Pakistan, but a move towards right direction.

Use of technological advancement also played an important role in increasing number of votes for 2013 election. NADRA introduced SMS services keeping in view access of mobile phone services to a large population of Pakistan. This service enabled registered voters to locate their polling stations hence saving their efforts to physically go and verify. Moreover, on Election Day presiding officers were provided voter lists having pictures of registered voters. This proved to be very useful in verification of voters. Also, NADRA used fingerprint-screening system to verify votes in different districts after elections to verify valid votes.

We should also not forget the positive role played by all political parties despite threats from militants and terrorists in different high security risk areas of Pakistan. Several Pakistani men and women were killed and injured in bomb blasts and IED attacks on political party offices and rallies. It was heartening to see that all political parties despite clear threats continued their participation in electoral process and did not back off. Security forces despite limited resources ensured elections were carried out in a safe manner. Special security measures were put in place for polling stations on Election Day. Election staff along with security personnel ensured polling stations remained a safe place for voters. These special arrangements encouraged voters to come out and vote despite tense security situation in different parts of Pakistan. Voters were seen standing in long queues and waiting for their turn, hence showing their confidence in arrangements made by ECP and its partners for successful conduct of elections.

We yet have to see another important electoral process happening this year i.e. local government elections. As per constitution, ECP is responsible for conducting local government elections in collaboration with Provincial Governments. As we wait for final schedule to be announced by provincial governments, it is evident that this will be another milestone in Pakistan’s electoral history. We are hopeful that the process will be more streamlined and all lesson learnt during 11 May elections will be incorporated.

The views expressed by this guest blogger and the comments given by any visitor do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the pakvoter.

Ever since the war on terror began, Pakistan has been sufferring from the malaise of we cant do it. Its either we can’t meet our debts or we can’t combat these militants or we can’t fly a plane straight or we can’t take care of our own (floods 2010) The point being that negativity is at a full time high and the same mantra has been repeated again and again till is become ingrained in the back of all our minds.

So obviously when it was time for the elections this year the same old demons started rearing their heads. Initially it was hard enough getting all parties to agree on one leadership for the election commission but once Fakhruddin G Ebrahim was selected and put into place unity began to shine through the cracks of naysaying. Although the task in front of him seemed so monumental many doubted that the elections would ever take place.

Amidst desperate attempts by conspirators and talibans alike, with the background of bombs exploding and security on high alert the fact that we still managed to pull off Elections 2013 and with a 55% record turnout is nothing short of extraordinary.

Was it a perfect process though? Obviously not but what electoral process is perfect? There are gaps everywhere, some of those in the form of revoting in areas with ballot issues have already taken place and the rest are pending in the courts. By and large however all parties have accepted the mandate of the people and moved on. Why shouldn’t they? When the mandate itself seems to be completely at par with the national narrative at the moment.

For the future however the election commission needs to use more technology, even though the pictures of voters on forms this time next to names via NADRA was appreciable. Bio metric scanners need to be in place especially in districts where there is a history of electoral fraud to ensure further transparency in the electoral process. The media too needs to move beyond the drawing board scenario analysis and have exit polls which actually make any sense. Going on to announce who had won based on a 2% sample does not an exit poll make!

All being said and done, we have proven to ourselves that if there is political will a successful transition from one democracy to another is possible in this nation. Now we the people of Pakistan have to make sure that these transitions become a norm rather than a rare occurrence in the elections to come. For only through successful elections in the future can we be able to as a nation exercise our right of choice, so thank you ECP and please keep it up!

The views expressed by this guest blogger and the comments given by any visitor do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the pakvoter.

During the last year, we have seen immense political presence in Pakistan’s social media. It started with leaders of almost all political parties garnering an online presence to realising how to market a party as an online brand. It has not been an easy ride for these political parties because our politicians tend to be more than a bit clumsy when it comes to technology and the online crowd is pretty harsh towards anything it deems to be even slightly illogical or rude.
However, during the process of forming party lines online and the practice of select groups of trolls lashing out at detractors, a pleasant new phenomenon has taken place. I have been watching this rather closely and have observed that people have moved from talking about parties and discussing them to now holding them completely and ruthlessly accountable for their actions online.
I suppose this transition took place because educated voters realised that this is, perhaps, the best way to speak out in a system, which is hell-bent on silencing their voice. Quite frankly, today, a person in Pakistan has little or no recourse to justice or speaking out if the issue is not bolstered by social media. This is why, one sees more people holding political parties accountable online for every decision they take. This is also bolstered by the fact that finally, at least in the recent elections, most of the startling news content was produced by the citizens themselves, be it in the form of videos showing rigging taking place or status updates on when they voted and in what conditions.
While it is true that many have in the past scoffed at social media on the basis that the number of people online was too insignificant to make a difference, as per information provided by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the number of people using social media in the country is just under 30 million. Analytics companies, which make studies out of cookies that can trace a particular browser session, put this number at around 15 to 20 million. Even this is a huge number for a country like ours. To break this number down further, Facebook has around 8.6 million Pakistanis on it, while Twitter has just over a million users at present. Absolutely accurate figures cannot be given for social media simply because even as I write, more and more people are joining it, so it is a forever increasing figure. Compare this online reach with some of our mainstream print publications’ circulations and even after factoring in fake accounts, one can see an alarming gap of reach, leaning in favour of online media.
So, now that we are able to put out newsworthy content from the palm of our hand and hold our political leaders accountable, the ball lies in the political parties’ court. They can either embrace this tool more fully and form online complaint centres for people to interact with, as well as suggest public works projects to, or they can, as some currently do, ignore it all to their own doom. I say doom because this election was just a slight glimpse into what a social media-enabled generation can do. In five years, people will be using more efficient and perhaps, even securer means of communication. So, in the next election, they might go from just reporting and holding political leaders accountable to changing a candidate’s mandate by the power of their voice should he or she not fulfil their standards.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2013.
The views expressed by this guest blogger and the comments given by any visitor do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the pakvoter.

Have we become so disillusioned with the voting process and politics in general, that we have just tuned out from society at large? I have friends that have told me that their votes don’t matter and that the problems are so big that nothing can make it better, but I disagree. They say that nobody “good” runs for office anymore because politics have become so negative. That it doesn’t matter who the face is, they are basically all the same. While I agree that things have become very negative and some candidates talk more about their opponents’ weaknesses than sharing their own plans or solutions, not voting is not a solution. Even if we feel that parties in general have lost the vision, there have to be some good people still wanting to make a difference. There have to be some good people in politics who are there for the right reasons and who want to be effective leaders.

I think that it’s way too easy for us to disengage and say that we can’t make a difference. It’s too easy to say, “I don’t want to vote because things are such a mess and they will never change.” I also think that we have become a little lazy. We think that if we don’t vote that we are distancing ourselves from any responsibility. We also are too lazy to do a little homework and research to find accurate information about certain issues or certain people. How many of us have actually read the manifestos of the political parties to see what they project as our future? I hear people complaining about everything that is wrong, but none of us really make the effort to see how the various parties are looking at resolving it. We hear their speeches that highlight the important issues without having the time to go into detail, and assume that that is all there is to their party – their speeches! We should do our own research.

Media continues to show that people are disillusioned and angry at the state of affairs. Are we just so angry that we are going to blame whomever we can blame at the moment? I do

feel like we, Pakistanis, have become somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction society that reacts to the most recent headlines and scare tactics without digging deep and finding out the facts for ourselves. With all of the technology that we have at our fingertips today, it’s much easier to do our homework. We just have to take the time to do it. Take an interest. Engage.

At the minimum, take an interest in the things that directly affect our daily life. These things can change with where we are in our life and the lens that we look through on a daily basis. I want inclusive leaders who value everyone’s rights and human dignity of all and I want to vote for someone who will ensure that. What is important to you? Who do you think will fulfill your dream society? What can you do about it? Are all things perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.

I have made it a goal of mine to be educated and informed as possible and to be engaged in the entire political process. Because I do believe that one vote can make a difference. I believe that we, as Pakistanis need to re-engage in the process and do our homework. It’s not that difficult.

URL: http://kamaalkibaat.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/to-vote-or-not-to-vote-why-is-that-even-a-question-for-pakistani/

Irrespective of the language, culture or social norms of a specific region, there are certain integral values that remain unchanged across borders and divides. For instance, nowhere in the world have we ever seen masses demanding widespread anarchy and disorder; on the contrary, world over people want a functional system of governance to maintain rule of law in the society. Accordingly, it seems safe to assume that to see order and stability in the society is something that is inherent to all human beings. It is this integral need that propels us all to rally behind political leaders, cheer for them during processions and vote for them during elections – all the time hoping that the leader of our choice will bring prosperity once s/he is in power. However, our desire to see betterment in the society is not time bound and so it does not cease to exist upon casting the vote. This desire continues even after a new government is in place, driving us to scrutinize policies and actions of our governments and leaders. It is this drive for constant improvement in the environment around us that gives rise to another integral value that people across the world hold dear: accountability.

Accountability, by many, is considered the fourth leg of the metaphorical chair of good governance. It helps the masses to evaluate the effectiveness of public officials and public offices, ensures that they are performing to their full potential and ensures that at any given point in time there is enough public pressure on the political leaders to be responsive to the community they are meant to serve.

So, how can accountability be exercised? What mechanism should an average voter adopt to have his/her concerns heard? Who should we complain to and how can we reach such people and offices?

In Pakistan there are a number of institutions whose sole or partial purpose is to ensure that the government and its officials run the affairs of the state as transparently as possible. There are also specialized institutions where general people like you and I can lodge a complaint or register a concern that we might have regarding the functioning of the government.

Most of us here in Pakistan are well aware of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). With its offices in all the major cities of the country, NAB is Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organization. Any and every Pakistani citizen is eligible to approach NAB with evidence against guilty government office holders, whether political or bureaucratic. The icing on the cake for the informer is that if the corrupt official is convicted because of his/her tip, NAB will also reward him/her!

While NAB is the primary government organization entrusted with the task of ensuring transparency, other public institutions include Public Accounts Committee, the Judicial Commission, Election Commission of Pakistan, Ombudsman institutions, the Federal Investigation Agency and various provincial agencies. For economic governance, there is another set of institutions: the State Bank of Pakistan, the Competition Commission of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Apart from government organizations mentioned above, the Parliament itself is one of the most important structures in the ‘chain of accountability’. The Parliament does not merely form the bridge between people and the government but its role is also critical because it is also the institution to which many accountability institutions report. Moreover, a Parliament and its elected representatives are important vehicles through which citizens and civic groups can also extract enforcement of various laws and policies.

Finally, the citizens have a dual role when it comes to ensuring accountable governance. On one hand the government generates data regarding its functioning to keep the citizens informed and on the other hand, the citizens themselves are an important source to generate data for better accountability. Confused? Let me explain! You see, in the age of smart phones, 24/7 internet connectivity and social media platforms such as Twitter, citizens can now hold the government and its officials accountable without a moment’s delay.

In short, there are sound mechanisms in place to ensure checks and balances for transparent and effective governance. However, it is not just the responsibility of the government to ensure the effectiveness of these mechanisms but every citizen also has an important role to play. So, whether it’s reaching out to NAB with important evidence or raising hue and cry on social media, you and I are the most important players in ensuring good, transparent governance!

Abraham Lincoln best defined the notion of democracy as: “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. This represents the inclusiveness of democracy that is reflective of the wishes of the masses i.e. the general public or Awam. In today’s blog we will try to analyze the role of general public in fostering democracy at the grass root level.

It is ultimately the public, who is in the position to hold their representatives accountable. However, for this accountability the active participation of the citizens is imperative. Unfortunately in developing countries such as Pakistan the electoral candidates are chosen often on the pretext of how much development work would he/she carry out in the constituency. This constituency-focused approach makes perfect sense with regard to Local Government Elections (LGE) because the very purpose of the local government is to work for the development of the concerned village, tehsil or district at the grassroots level. However, when choosing a candidate for the National or Provincial assemblies, it is imperative to keep an eye on the “bigger picture”, i.e. to see the impact that the candidate or political party of our choice will have on the national or provincial fronts. As citizens, while a enjoying a better standard of living is our right, we must also be mindful of our responsibility to vote for the candidate or political party that (to the best of our understanding) will play an instrumental role in uplifting the plight of the country at the macro level. This is especially important because while local government representatives are entrusted with working for the betterment of the specific village, tehsil or district for which they have been chosen, parliamentarians on the other hand are also responsible for legislation, i.e. laws that govern the working of the state at the national or the provincial level. Accordingly, our choice of candidate while voting for the national or provincial assemblies is likely to have a much greater impact on the welfare of millions of fellow citizens across the country or the province and hence, it is necessary that we think beyond the welfare of our constituency.

The political parties do come up with electoral manifestos but these are seldom put into implementation and are rather showcased for media. Once the elections are over, the citizens, much like most political parties forget about the promises made during the electoral campaign. However, with the new age of technology, citizens in many countries are finding innovative ways to ensure that pledges made by political parties and their leaders during election campaigns are not forgotten. An interesting example here can be of “Morsi meter” an online portal set-up by a group of citizens in Egypt to monitor the pledges made by President Morsi during his election campaigns. This digital initiative has successfully been documenting and monitoring the performance of Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, providing the citizens with a platform to have their voices heard, to hold the government accountable and most importantly to collectively exert pressure on the sitting government to deliver on its election promises.

Moreover, lack of voter registration is the missing link when it comes to grass-root democracy or local bodies elections. As citizens we need to understand that our voting right is not a privilege but rather a duty and we must register as voters in our respective communities and furthermore we must cast our votes during elections be it for national, provincial or local bodies. Citizens also play a pivotal role in strengthening the local bodies as they elect representatives such as councilors and Nazims. The local bodies’ representatives are the ones who are responsible to ensure provision of municipal services in the area. Through meaningful participation the citizens can ensure that their voices are heard and public officials take the necessary measures. Holding corner meetings in our local communities or during Friday prayers can carry out such participation.

Lastly, democracy cannot take its roots at the grass-root level without proactive engagement of females and marginalized communities such as the religious and ethnic minorities, transgender people and of course the youth. It is important to point out here that females make well over half of Pakistan’s population. This fact alone makes them a key stakeholder in the democratic process and for this reason it is essential that we take into account their needs and perspectives and effectively use their skills in trickling down the benefits of democracy to the masses. Similarly, more than 60% of Pakistan’s population comprises of youth. It is therefore imperative that young people are involved and empowered to make informed decisions about choosing the government of their choice. Finally, minorities – be they religious, ethnic or gender-based – have to be included in the fold as equal citizens. While most political parties speak about protecting the rights of the marginalized segments of the society, we as citizens have a huge responsibility to ensure that the minority segments are involved in the decision making process (at local, provincial or national level) and accorded their right as equal and empowered citizens of the state.

Media, plural of Medium, is a Latin word which literally means an intervening agency, means or instrument used to store and deliver information or data. In general, it is termed as a means of general communication, information or entertainment covering multiple modes such as press, photography, advertising, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television) and publishing. The term Media was first applied to newspapers about two centuries ago and since then it has also obtained a political connotation covering all mediums used to communicate political information to cross section of people that reaches and influences them as well. Initially covering newspapers and magazines only as print media, it expanded its scope to radio and television as electronic media while social media is the latest addition to it. As it greatly influences the opinion building of public, it is also termed as the fourth pillar of state. Media plays an indispensable role in effective functioning of a democracy. In electoral context, its importance as a watchdog is extremely valuable. It helps the voters to make their elected representatives accountable by highlighting their successes and failures during their tenures. It makes a critical analysis of policies of governments to help them perform better or revise the policies adversely affecting the public or national interest. It helps to make a comparative analysis of electoral practices and electoral bodies’ managements highlighting successful models across the world to help adopt international best practices and policies. This makes the electoral process transparent, thus restoring people’s confidence in the very foundation of a political process and the system. In short, Media educates the voters to help them exercise their democratic rights on merit by making an appropriate choice of a candidate or party in the electoral process. The Media contributes in this process by communicating to the voters the right information about performance, education, experience, achievements, future agendas and previous role of proposed candidates, political parties, governance systems and procedures to help the voters make a sound decision as to whom they should surrender their political will for best pursuit of national goals. However, in this situation, a great burden and responsibility lies on Media’s shoulders that they should remain neutral and above all political affiliations while reporting the election activities. A professional journalist or media house needs to be above board to convey a report or analysis by presenting all existing dimensions and opinions about the parties and individual candidates with minimum possible bias so that voters get more educated to vote for the best candidate or party in the run. The present trend wherein the journalists, particularly the electronic media anchors, have transformed their roles more into analysts with focus on enforcing their own opinions and wanting their audience to follow their preferences is a dangerous trend of imposing one’s thought process on others which can simply be termed as Media dictatorship. A more dangerous trend is the misuse of media power by certain individuals in the name of freedom of expression leading to blackmailing of certain individuals to cover their misdeeds or undue promotion of others to help them elevate their position in corridors of political power houses to get undue benefits in return. Some individuals in Media resort to such short term individual gains at the expense of their institution for earning favors from those in authority due to the powers which they enjoy or are likely to enjoy in future, thus promoting corruption and nepotism in the political system right at the time of elections. A more unregulated face of Media is the new trend of social media where anyone can express any comments which are sometimes in total disregard of the moral, legal or social norms of a civilized society and may undermine the political future of a political contestant creating bias against him. The need, however, is of an effective code of conduct for Media and a strong regulator so that responsible reporting is promoted and false, malicious and malafide content is filtered out with the realization that such a content can lead to their accountability and cost them heavily as professional mediapersons.

Should persons with disabilities be part of the electoral process and contribute to the public accountability of elected representatives? Although 98 census puts figures of disabled persons in the country at 2.5 % of the total population in the country, disability organizations have always contested this figure suggesting that disabled population is closer to around 10 % of the total population. This population of persons with disabilities has special needs characterized by the nature of different disabilities. Persons with disabilities have to face multiple barriers owing to their different disabilities. They can only take part in mainstream life if attitudinal, social and physical barriers are removed. Persons with disabilities can only ensure public accountability of elected representatives with regard to the realization of their special needs and creating a barrier free environment if they are able to exercise their vote power. We all know that like any other power, vote power only has value when it can be exercised. Can voters with disabilities exercise their vote power independently, in secret and with dignity like their non-disabled peers? What access barriers do voters with disabilities face while casting their votes? What is the policy of the Election Commission of Pakistan in this regard? People with disabilities face manifold barriers that hamper their participation in the political process. Some of these are attitudinal and others physical About the voting rights of the disabled persons, EC maintains, “Where an elector is blind or incapacitated and cannot vote without the assistance of a companion the presiding officer shall allow him such assistance”. This statement pays greater emphasis on the goodness of human nature rather than providing the equal opportunity environment to the voter with disabilities. It presupposes that allowance of the assistance of the presiding officer will help the disabled voter cast his vote independently, in secrecy and with dignity. This approach is a very limited one and offers assistance only at the polling station. It does not spell out off-site help to those PWDs who cannot come to the polling stations. We need to make Bill of electoral rights for citizens with disabilities part of our efforts to make electoral process inclusive for persons with disabilities. This bill was “drafted and endorsed by participants attending a four-day workshop held from 14-17 September 2002, in Sigtuna, Sweden. This bill calls on all states to meet their obligations in providing equal opportunity environment to the citizens with disabilities so that they could exercise their universal right of equal participation in the electoral process. Furthermore, Election Commission of Pakistan should adopt Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities. These standards can be very useful in our context and we will not have to reinvent the wheel. These standards address all issues pertaining to the voting rights of PWDs like non-discrimination, the state’s obligation to “overcome specific difficulties”, the right to a secret vote in public, providing options to the voters with disabilities in deciding the alternative ways they want to cast their votes, assistive voting, off-site voting and promulgation of instructions to the polling staff regarding voters with disabilities. [These standards can be very useful in our context and we will not have to reinvent the wheel. These standards address all issues pertaining to the voting rights of PWDs like non-discrimination, the state’s obligation to “overcome specific difficulties”, the right to a secret vote in public, providing options to the voters with disabilities in deciding the alternative ways they want to cast their votes, assistive voting, off-site voting and promulgation of instructions to the polling staff regarding voters with disabilities. Furthermore, Election Commission of Pakistan should adopt Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities.

Pakistan is democratic country that has witnessed intermittent elections due to repeated military takeovers. Due to this, the continuity of political processes, democratic development and institutional building in the country remained a dream. In 2013, country experienced the smooth transfer of power from one democratic regime to another because of hence to supposedly transparent, free, and fair General Elections 2013. Nevertheless, currently Pakistan is witnessing political crisis owing to alleged rigging in May 2013 General Elections invoked by some opposition political parties. The accusations and counter accusations have to be judged by the competent commission. However, the alleged or one can say a possible rigging in elections are mainly due to either non-availability or due to non-implementation of strong and effective legal framework related with electoral processes. The laws related with conduct of elections, political finances, and political parties are name of the few. The democratic development of Pakistan being in transition phase, there is need of electoral reforms that must include the requirement of enactment of new laws for political finance regulations and the steps taken to implement the existing one with letter and spirit. Pakistan legal framework for political finance regulation provides for three things, for instance, the prohibitions, limitations, and disclosure. If we review the existing laws, the legal provisions are either vague or incomplete and if available are partially implemented or mostly not implemented at all. Political parties and individual candidates spend funds on electoral campaign which are not strictly monitored according to law by concerned authority. According to law, as stipulated in sections 5 and 6 of ‘The Political Parties Order 2002, the political parties have to maintain bank accounts for party funds, contributions, and disbursement and to submit to ECP annual record. Similarly, sections 49 of the Representation of Peoples Act 1976, provides for limitation of election expenses to 1.5 million through a valid single bank account for a candidate contesting elections for National Assembly seat and limitation of election expenses of 1 million for a contesting candidate of Provincial Assembly seat. Additionally, section 50 of the ROPA 1976 provides for maintenance and return of election expenses constituted of contributions made and expenditures incurred to returning officers. As a matter of practice, after elections only few of the electoral candidates submit returns to ECP. Nevertheless, the returned candidates have to submit election expanses returns unless their official notification of being returned candidates is held by ECP. But, such returns are not counter verified during or after elections. Resultantly, there are observed several incidents of violations of election laws related with election spending. There is need to implement the existing political finance regulations and to enact the ones that are missing to make electoral process of Pakistan more robust, strong and independent of any influences. The need of enactment of new laws would be covered in subsequent blogs.

“Each Provincial Government shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibilities and authority to the elected representatives of the local government”, says article 140-A of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It has been almost four years since people in three provinces of Pakistan have remained deprived of their representative local governments, one Baluchistan, had LG elections in 2013. Inclusive and participatory government is privy to the definition of democracy and this can only be achieved when people are made part of the decision making process. Pakistan has seen four local government systems, three of them introduced by the dictators who wanted to get their legitimacy by reaching to the masses through local governments. The most visible and eventful, if not successful, was the system of local government introduced by Musharaf regime in 2001. This system was later defunct after the 2008 elections when democratic forces took over and the dictator was forced to resign. Elections in 2008 brought a new era of democratic rule in Pakistan that raised hope of the people for more share in the government but these hopes met with severe setback when the democratic forces failed to install a local government system even after completing a full tenure in office. All the political parties promised local governments in run for elections in 2013 but again it proves to be a long way to go. Establishment of local governments is the responsibility of the provincial governments who have not yet been able to act upon this constitutional injunction in three provinces. Though all the provinces have come up with legislation on local government but elections are yet to be held. There can be no second word on importance of local government, it brings governance to the door step of the people, makes them part of the governance process and includes their wishes in the local decision making. Local governments give ownership of the local resource to the people while making them responsible to resolve their indigenous problems locally. Hence local government empowers people with the resources as well as ability to use these resources for their collective good. The case for local governments becomes stronger when article 140-A comes forth for its endorsement. The incumbent provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have not only failed to establish democracy in its true form but it also implies that constitution has not been upheld. If Pakistan has to emerge as a democratic state it must strengthen democracy by implementing the constitutional injunctions and establishing local governments at local governments in all provinces.

Vote by strict definition means a formal indication of a choice between two or more candidates or courses of action, expressed typically through a ballot or a show of hands. It is also termed as a choice expressed collectively by a body of electors, a specified group or an individual. In political terms, it is the right to register a choice in an election to a political office in any tier of government. Derived from the Latin word votum meaning ‘a vow or wish’, in political terms it has transformed its meaning to express one’s desire to support an individual, group or party to carry out an agenda(s) or policy(ies) which an individual voter considers appropriate for the welfare of a certain group, community or a nation. In the modern day political systems, where democracy is the most accepted and established international political standard of governance, voting is the preamble or basic foundation for edifice of such a system. Therefore, in order to have strong and effective democratic system, it must be built on strong and transparent foundations, the credibility of which is not questionable. For this to happen, an independent, free and transparent voting is the only option to ensure a strong foundation for democracy in any system. In Pakistan as well, when we urge the citizens to vote in an electoral process, the objective is to make them a part of the decision making process for the future policies to be implemented by their representatives for whom they have voted for. To realize this objective, the foremost priority is to make the citizens confident about utility of such an exercise. In other words, the voters should have faith in transparency of the exercise as well as equal opportunity for all those who participate in this exercise to get elected so that voter has a variety of choice among the candidate to be voted upon. Now two basic questions arise in such a situation particularly in case of Pakistan. First, whether the citizens have confidence in transparency of voting system so that they are sure that their voting has not been tampered with. Second, whether the voters have enough of variety of candidates to vote for a candidate he considers closest to his ideals to translate the policies as he desires appropriate for the country. Though in some sections of the society, there is a general feeling of alienation with the electoral system and unfortunately it also includes the educated and urban elite, it generates an extremely unwanted reaction by this section in the form of reluctance to vote. There is a strong opinion that those who resort to this abdicating posture are the ones who are otherwise supposed to be most active to mobilize the voters as they are likely to be the future leaders of country. Resultantly, this absence of the educated and politically aware voter from electoral arena in fact gives strength to electoral block of voters who vote on ethnic, linguistic, sectarian and tribal lines. Therefore, those having a broader understanding of the national issues and policies themselves leave the field open for the ones having little understanding of the same by leaving the field open for them. In a society divided on ethnic, sectarian, linguistic and tribal lines, any priority for vote on these lines in fact results in the election of public representatives having the same priorities as well as interests which are translated into the larger policy making of country in the form of physical and legislative development resulting in further polarization of society at the national level. Consequently what we see is that a certain group of individuals who are shortsighted with narrow thinking of just their own or their group’s interests, ultimately prevail over long term national policy formulation with patronization of the individuals having same ideas and thoughts just because they were not confronted by the votes of those who have an understanding to give a policy direction to the country. But why this happens. How can the educated elite be made to realize that by not participating in the electoral exercise, they are in fact facilitating those whom they otherwise criticize for taking wrong decisions and making the country move astray from the desired goals. In fact the trend of criticizing the government policies and decisions by just talking in drawing rooms and discussion forums and not coming out on the voting day is sign of an aversion to speak through their elected representatives. This is akin to a perpetual crime against the future generations by making democracy to fail as they say that to make democracy work; we must be a notion of participants, not simply observers as the one who does not vote has no right to complain.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom-Thomas Jefferson

When addressing House of Commons on November 11, 1947, Winston Churchill said that Democracy was the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that had been tried from time to time, he might have in his mind the opportunities of accountability of the rulers that the democracy provides in greater number in comparison with any other form of government. Since democracy is defined as ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’, it can be said that a citizen plays a pivotal role in the success or otherwise of the democratic system of government in terms of putting the resources to judicious use for the greater good of the society. In other words, what sets apart democratic system of government with any other form of government is the ability of the citizens to hold their elected representatives and public officials accountable. Furthermore, we can also say that if citizens are unable to hold elected representative and public officials accountable, it would become difficult to distinguish democratic system of government from other forms of government in which rulers are unaccountable to their citizens. So, how can citizens ensure accountability of their politicians and officials and what are their responsibilities in this regard?
At the outset, it needs to be understood that each and every voter should not only cast his vote but should be able to cast his/her vote independently, in secret and with dignity to elect representatives to run affairs of the government on his/her behalf. Furthermore, citizens should make sure that they are making informed choices while electing their representatives. If citizens are able to make informed choices rather than those based on rumors, they will be able to reject those candidates who could not protect their interests and did not work for the greater good of the society or are not qualified for such a responsibility. In other words, democracy is such a system of government that allows citizens to contribute to the public accountability right from elections stage of the democratic process. Are elections only way of public accountability in democratic set-up?
Elections are but just one of many ways of public accountability in democratic form of government. In fact, it is responsibility of citizens to ensure public accountability throughout the democratic process right from one general election to the next general elections. Are political parties delivering on the promises made in their election manifestoes? Are the public resources being put to use in judicious manner? How can public accountability be ensured throughout the democratic process?
Citizens should ensure open and transparent functioning of public bodies. This can be done by putting in place procedures facilitating citizens in having access to information held by public bodies as well as proactive disclosure of information by public bodies. In other words, citizens should ensure first enactment and then implementation of right to information laws. The significance of right to information laws with regard to public accountability can be gauged from the fact that over 100 countries have enacted such laws. Furthermore, need for free, independent and responsible media for public accountability can hardly be exaggerated. That is why press is regarded as the fourth pillar of the state as journalists exercise right to information on the behalf of citizens and serve as watch-dog keeping eye on not only the other three pillars of the state i.e. judiciary, executive and legislature but also on everything else in the society which impacts public good.
This post has barely scratched the surface with regard to the significance of public accountability in a democratic set-up. Furthermore, the essential elements of public accountability need to be discussed in greater detail. For example, if it is important for citizens to cast their vote independently, in secret and with dignity to ensure public accountability, then it also needs to be discussed as to how each voter, irrespective of physical impairments, creed, color, gender and status should be able to do the same. Similarly, how it can be ensured that the media is free, independent and responsible and as to who will watch the watch-dog and how? How can citizens use right to information laws to ensure public accountability in a democratic process? These and other questions will be dealt with in other posts.

Pakistan, as you well know is a Parliamentary democracy with a federal government and four provincial legislatures. In other words, there’s a federal government at the center (i.e. Islamabad) that takes care of national affairs on the whole and then there are four provincial governments that are entrusted with the welfare of the provinces. Have you ever thought why we don’t have Presidential system of governance or any other form and why this particular model was adopted to govern Pakistan? Well, in today’s blog we will discuss precisely that and specifically talk about why “federalism” is important for the country.

Let’s first establish a definition for “federalism”. Simply – but rather academically – put, “federalism refers to a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (such as states or provinces). Need for further elaboration there? No? Great, let’s move on then!

Before talking about why federalism is important for Pakistan, let’s first take a little walk down memory lane and trace its history. Pakistan gained the status of an independent country in 1947, however it took us nine years after independence to present the first institution in the Constituent Assembly. In 1954 the assembly was dissolved by the Governor General without any constitutional mandate leading to instability in the political arrangement. The constitutions of 1956 and 1962 were abrogated (i.e. in other words “scrapped”!). in all honesty, the 1962 version of the constitution deserved abrogation because it broke the democratic rules of one-man, one-voter turnout as well as adult franchise and developed a flawed federal structure under which the concept of provinces was finished and the entire country fell under the “One Unit” system! Needless to say, the over centralization of the Pakistani federation resulted in the largest province seceding from the federation. Later, sanity prevailed and the Provinces were revived and One Unit was abolished, however provinces were denied their political, economic and cultural rights resulting in distrust between the federation and the provinces on the one hand and amongst the provinces on the other.

It was in this backdrop that the 1973 Constitution came into existence with consensus amongst all political forces within parliament and the provinces. The constitution promised a federal parliamentary system with provincial autonomy in which fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary would be ensured. Unfortunately the Constitution of 1973 was not implemented in letter and spirit and military dictatorships led to further centralization.

Thankfully, this imbalance in the federal structure was corrected through the eighteenth constitutional amendment in 2010. Pakistan is now a participatory federation with joint ownership of natural resources. It is quite a paradox that with the exception of the Constitution of 1962, all constitutional arrangements including the Government of India Act, 1935, Constitution of 1956 and the Constitution of 1973 are essentially federal in character though in practice a centralized form of government prevailed in the country. Repeated derailment of the democratic and constitutional process heightened tensions on issues of economic management, provincial autonomy and discretionary powers, particularly those vested in the office of the President of Pakistan. The Eighteenth Amendment has tried to address these issues keeping in view Pakistan’s historical context, its polity and its objective conditions. In other words the Eighteenth Amendment, throws up a Pakistani federalism that learns from the experiences of others but is rooted in the Pakistani reality. The Amendment provides ownership and participation in policy and management of natural resources, increased the legislative powers of the provincial assemblies including those on taxation. In termination, civil society organizations, journalists, politicos and other interest groups have a part to play in managing differences and creating a home grown federalism that is rooted in local polity and ensures unity in variety.

In a nutshell, it took Pakistan 67 years to devise the near perfect formula for federalism but now that it’s finally in place, it is the responsibility of each and every citizen to ensure that it prevails.

In the previous blogs we’ve spoken about how the government is run at the federal and provincial levels. In today’s blog we’ll go further down and talk about the Local government institutions, known as “local bodies” in Pakistan. Before going forward it is important to understand that while federal and provincial governments manage things more at the top tier level, it is in fact the local bodies that manage the day to day running of any district and then the tehsils and even villages within these districts.

In lay man’s language, local bodies are essential grassroots organizations that perform necessary administrative functions at the municipal level. The primary purpose of such entities is to ensure that power to manage financial and administrative matters is transferred to the district, sub-district and community level. The importance (if not success) of these institutions in Pakistan was so profound that even though two non-party-based elections took place for local bodies since their inception in 2001 under the Musharraf regime – and despite the fact that they became largely defunct after 2008 as the National and provincial assemblies reasserted their political power – these institutions now continue to operate under a bureaucratic methodology, and their ultimate control has been vested in the provincial government as per the 18th Amendment (more on the 18th Amendment in our coming posts!).

Provinces like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab chose to reinstate the “commissionerate” system – i.e. a system where a bureaucratic appointee of the government is responsible for the affairs of a district – rather than keep the democratic nature of the local bodies system alive, and hold elections to the post(s) of Nazims (mayors) for various districts.

Despite the fact that local bodies have continued to function as non-representative and centrally controlled bureaucratic entities (instead of evolving into the kind of organizations that would suit the effective administration of each district), the offices and powers of the district Nazim have been re-invested into that of the commissioner or deputy/assistant commissioner (depending on size and population of district) who now administer and control the various departments created under the 2001 local government system: with separate, district-level institutions for revenue collection, law and order, health, education, development, civil defence, etc. By forcing representative officers of local bodies to become dysfunctional during and after 2008, and by installing bureaucratic officers to district-level mayoral posts instead of holding representative elections according to the right of democratic franchise, the post-2008 democratic setup in Pakistan – especially the political parties who vowed to restore real democracy to Pakistan and rid it of dictatorship – eventually ended up combining the new local bodies with the age-old, arbitrary and unrepresentative “commissionerate” system, thereby asserting centralized control over the districts from the national (and after 2010, when the 18th Amendment was promulgated, provincial) bases of government and administration.

In the last few years there has been a growing demand by the masses to re-introduce the election based local government system in which citizens will hold the power to elect their representatives to run the affairs at the local level. The Supreme Court of Pakistan in a judgement has also called upon the government to make the local government system democratic to ensure that democracy takes roots at the community level.