Historically, people in Pakistan are not very much concerned regarding electoral process in Pakistan. We are much more comfortable sitting in calmness of our homes and abusing the political system of our country for not delivering what was expected of them. So, what do you think about the political system? Do you think that the political system of our country has rotten or are you satisfied with the system?
Well, if you are of any sense, you should not be satisfied of the system and would definitely want to change the system. I am not talking about changing the faces but changing the system. However, before you can change the system, you have to change your thought process and start educating yourself and people around you regarding the political system we are currently bearing in this country. When talking about change in thought process of voters, the first and foremost thing that you should understand is that you got to raise yourself above your personal or communal gains and start thinking at national level. Believe it that an immoral person- no matter if he’s even of your family; will eventually create a mess at home and at country level once he has his entry at the parliament of Pakistan. Therefore, you have to understand your responsibility and obligations of choosing the right candidate at this election. Traditionally, political parties in Pakistan are not very considerate of giving their tickets to right candidates and often choose their representative on the basis of his/her financial stability rather than considering the moral character of the candidate. It is therefore impulsive for you to get better understanding of candidates contesting from your area and be watchful as you prepare to vote on the Election Day.
National Assembly and consequent Government of Pakistan is formed through your direct voting. This further aggravates your responsibility as a sensible citizen (are you sensible?) to get better knowhow about contesting candidates. So, this time around while you are preparing for the Election Day, make sure you are completely familiar with the political profiles of candidates and their moral character. There are many ways that can help you better understand the profile of each candidate some of which we will be discussing below.

Media
Media is perhaps the most influential and easy to reach medium that can help you find the figures and character about candidates contesting in your area. Electronic media in Pakistan has seen dramatic growth in last few years and today they are considered as the best source to get familiar with government of Pakistan and its policies on different issues. Similarly, before the Electoral process in Pakistan, media updates complete information regarding each candidate contesting in election countrywide. Lookouts for media debates and watch the list of candidates from each constituency on media websites. Some websites also provides candidates profiles in constituency maps. This will help you figure out not only the political profiles of candidates from your area but also facilitate you in knowing the priorities of candidates.

Election Commission website
Though not as comprehensive as the media outlets, but election commission of Pakistan updates complete list of selected candidates contesting across country. You can easily check out candidates from your constituency from their website and also lookout for their political profiles.
Furthermore there are different government offices that share profiles of political parties in Pakistan and their respective representatives, for instance FBR etc. You can see the details of political figures and judge their moral character which will help you narrow down your list for most suitable candidate.

Neutral Platforms
Though civic education in Pakistan is not up to the level where it should have been, still there are many NGOs and private organizations running awareness campaigns in many areas. You can get complete political profiles of each political party in Pakistan from these private/neutral platforms which will help you in choosing the right candidate in this election.

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 people bear the biggest responsibility in the democratic system. As defined by the Lincoln, “Democracy is the rule of people by the people for the people.” Therefore, people are the fundamental ingredient that makes up true democracy and any democratic system without effective and intelligent involvement of people would eventually fail.
Unfortunately, as we, Pakistanis are great neglector of our duties and responsibilities as a voter to select parliamentarians and keep check and balance once they enter into the parliament of Pakistan. So, are we aware of our obligations to safeguard and nurture democracy in our country? Are we aware of our role in the electoral process in Pakistan and are we aware of our strength and powers when it comes to democratic system in Pakistan? Or are we just like another Pakistanis who blame politicians for all that’s happening in the country- while sitting at the comfort of our home or reading newspaper at our coffee table. One thing that all of us got to understand is that until and unless we are aware of our obligations and powers in democratic system, there can’t be any change in current political system of the country. It is only when the people of this country realize to take things in their hands and to keep a strict check and balance over elected parliament of Pakistan then this system will deliver.
Your role as a citizen in democratic system is not just to vote smartly, but it is also to keep close look at the national policies being implemented by the parliament and raise your voice in favor or against any government policy that you thing will eventually hurt national cause. You have to understand that abusing and blaming politicians for their ill-thought policies will not make any difference until people will make themselves heard at every level of democratic system.
A mere survey on streets of any city will reveal that majority of our people are totally uninformed when it comes to their duties and obligations in electoral process in Pakistan. The lack of civic education in Pakistan has left the nation on command of political elites who often are involved in misappropriation, misconduct, and corruption. The major responsibility of all this mess has to be bear by the nation including you. You also have to understand that a democratic system could never prevail until you are wise enough to use your voting right smartly. You have to understand that their single thumb impression has more to do with the progress of country than any other thing.
If you can read the blog it means that, you are among the few in country that we can be called as well educated and informed enough to educate people that voting for the sake of voting is not just good enough to ensure right people enter the National Assembly and Senate of the country. The only true mean to make people realize their duties and obligations in electoral process in Pakistan is by providing them civic education in Pakistan and by making them understand the political & electoral history of Pakistan.
Moreover, you have to make people understand that they have to keep a constant oversight over government policies after completion of electoral process. Pressure groups need to keep consistent pressure on government to act rationally and to concentrate on fundamental evils of the society. We all including you and me, need to raise our voices when we see any injustice from government and need to educate people around us to raise their voices as well. A truly mobile and educated nation will certainly raise a corruption free, honest, and dedicated government that can change the course of history of the country. Until then, it is time to play our part as a responsible member of this country.

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.

It was on March 16, 2013 when National Assembly of Pakistan dissolved accomplishing its five years term. This happened first time in the history of Pakistan that National Assembly & Provincial Assemblies completed constitutional duration without military interference. Then the nation geared up for general elections in May, 2013. Pakistan election results were supposed to be credible and fair. It is evident that one of the essentials for making electoral process genuine and credible is the opportunity to get resolution for the disputes and complaints pertaining to the electoral process. This opportunity is equally significant for both citizens as well as contestant political profiles. The transparency, legitimization, and fairness heavily depend upon the country’s sound Election Dispute Resolution mechanisms (EDR). Unfortunately, Pakistan’s legal framework is not strong enough to provide adequate EDR processes consistent with international commitments. Though several efforts were made recently involving certain amendments in electoral legislations in order to review and eradicate the weaknesses in the EDR systems, yet the changing couldn’t make much difference in the electoral politics in Pakistan.
This discrepancy or the absence of effective system for electoral dispute resolution exposes the electoral process with a fundamental challenge. It consequently can lead to invalid election results and puts the political stability at risk. Moreover, an effective system is vital to bring Pakistan up to international conventions. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which establishes basic rights i.e. right to vote or to be elected at fair periodic election feels necessity for Pakistan to stand as State Party via covenant to ensure powerful counter step for violation of these rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 85); ICCPR (Art. 2 & Art. 25), and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, Art. 5.6) also enshrine the right to a sound remedy for the breach of rights.
Currently, the dispute resolution system of Pakistan is grounded partially in legislation and partially in informal practices formulated by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The formal dispute resolution processes are derived from Constitution and the Representation of the People Act (ROPA), 1976. In order to fill up the gaps in this system and eradicate the ambiguities of the process, the EDR framework is strongly required to be built purely upon law or Parliament act. This framework should have distinctive demarcations concerning authority levels and jurisdictions between political profiles and courts. Moreover, the whole process should be cost effective, easy-to-follow and accessible to electoral parties and other individuals as well. By the same token, it is vital that the EDR procedures for transparent and prompt dispositions of the pre-polling & polling day’s complaints should involve predetermined regulations. Though the ECP has worked out to develop certain strategies to improve the dispute resolution procedures yet a constant review and update in the existing framework is required for fair remedy consistent to the international conventions.

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.

Political finance refers to all sorts of funds that are utilized for various political purposes. Such purposes may cover election campaigns, political contests, policy development by parties, and training activities and so on and so forth. The reporting of political finance involves different sources of income and particular expenditure items, for instance, offices & staff, radio, TV, advertisements via print media, campaign material and opinion polls. The effective reporting of all categories of fund raised & spent is essential for a transparent political system but unfortunately, the current scenario is totally opposite. It is very awful to realize that corruption has plagued our beloved country since its inauguration. The worst part is that with the passage of time it has become a wide spread phenomenon and government of Pakistan failed to cut it down. Corruption is constantly becoming a matter of concern. It not only damages the social contact between government and its people but also a continuous threat to the integrity of the political parties of Pakistan. The core of corruption lies in embezzling the public funds that consequently leads to violation of human rights and puts democracy at risk. Through financial and political corruption, misuse of power and nepotism, the leaders are amassing extensive private fortunes while leaving their constituents in poverty. According to a report issued in 2012 by Transparency International Pakistan, the country has become more corrupt by achieving ranking number 33 from the previous 42. A total corruption of almost Rs. 12,600 billion is estimated in past five years.
Although there are multiple anti-corruption laws yet they have certain gaps and lacking in terms of implementation. The report by TI inscribes certain features of a powerful anti-corruption legislation must have following features:
A. Transparency legislation featuring following points:

Reporting of conflicts of interests;
Disclosure of assets by state officials and politicians (before & after appointment and annually during the appointment as well);
Freedom of information law- this information should be publically accessible.
B. Corruption Legislation featuring following points:

Defining the problem;
Ensuring whistle blowing protection legislation-that is meant to protect federal whistleblowers working for the government and reporting agency misconduct. This law is violated when any agency authority retaliate personal act against any employee due to that disclosure of information.
This simple legislation outline provides the basis for the effective implementation of the relevant laws in the political finance area. The transparency in political finance can be obtained via availability as well as accessibility of the disclosure information. Enhancing transparency in political finance system will be helpful in mitigating and illuminating the influence of illegal and corrupt practices. At the same time, it will benefit those who obey rules. Pakistan stands first in introducing right to information act in South Asian countries, however legislative bodies need to make legislation stronger followed by an effective implementation of these laws. Current legislation pitfalls have frustrated Pakistanis for too long. They are now looking forward for some positive changes in legislature for justice, rights, and security in their country. The political parties in Pakistan can work on existing framework of the political finance. Based upon international best practices, it can be further revised and improved and can help leading useful foundation for an effective legislature in our country.

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.

Civic education is also known as democracy education or citizen education and it broadly implies to the provision of learning experiences and knowledge to citizens in order to empower them to contribute effectively in the democratic mechanisms. The basic goal of this education is to support democratic as well as participatory governance. Civic education is manifested in many different forms including; classroom-based learning, experiential learning, informal learning & mass-media campaigns. It addresses a wide range of governance and political issues such as civic apathy/post-conflict reconciliation or corruption. In addition, it also takes social issues into account such as drug abuse, domestic violence etc. Overall, this field of study implies to civic knowledge, skills & disposition.
With specific reference to Election Day, the civic education in Pakistan has couple of major implications. First, it promotes participation of citizens in the electoral processes. It is observed generally that individuals who receive civic education, more actively participate in voting, legislation and policymaking, civil and political protests, problem solving initiatives for their community, election campaigns and accessing elected personnel. Second, students of civic education are considered to have sound knowledge about Pakistan and the basic features of its political system, structure & function of democratic bodies, civil/political rights and election timings. One of the most important aspects of civic education in Pakistan is voter education also referred to as electoral education. This type of education is imparted as a component of civic education and also in conjunction with electoral management bodies (EMB). This type of civic education is of immense importance in election context. It generally deals with the dissemination of materials, information, and programs designed to motivate and prepare individuals to participate fully in particular election process. It helps the individuals to understand more complex processes with reference to elections and highlighting significance & implications of voting, voting rights, human rights, roles, & responsibilities of voters, the conditions vital for democracy, and the relationship between democracy & elections. It also make them clear about the nature of electoral politics in Pakistan, eligibility criteria of electoral bodies, registration procedures, voting procedures or Election procedures in Pakistan.
Without civic and voter education, meaningful participation in an election process is not possible. If voters will be well aware of their rights & responsibilities, and legally valid procedures of casting ballots, the Election Day will become smooth and successful. Moreover, this education is crucial in regulating women participation in elections especially in under-developing & post-conflict countries where women do not use to play active role in elections. In this respect civic education can also play effective role by emphasizing equal rights of men and women. It can highlight the role women can play in national reconciliation and reconstruction if they possess knowledge and expertise and if they are given equal opportunities. The civic education must be equally accessible to both man & women. However, it should be ensured that during elections the government-sponsored Pakistan civic education or voter education must be accurate and neutral. It should not favor any particular party and should follow international best practices. The non-governmental bodies, media and local communities can make effective contributions in promoting civic education in election context while nourishing and strengthening all aspects of politics.

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.

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.

After discussing so many different topics related to democracy and the electoral process, in today’s blog we’ll talk about the system of governance currently in place in Pakistan. But before we launch into the whole discussion, here’s a warning: today’s blog will be just a tad bit academic! What’s that we hear? Boring, you said? No, no, we won’t get boring just a little a-c-a-d-e-m-i-c! Bear with us just a for a few minutes of reading and we promise that you won’t be disappointed!
Now without further ado let’s try to understand how the government functions in Pakistan and what processes are followed to keep the system streamlined. The first and most important piece of information that we need to know is that Pakistan follows a system of governance commonly known as “Parliamentary Democracy”. Simply put, a parliamentary system is one in which the executive branch (i.e. in the case of Pakistan its Prime Minister who holds maximum power in the decision making process) derives its legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature (which is known as the Parliament). Still a little confused? Okay, let’s break it down into steps: in a parliamentary form of government the masses elect a group of parliamentarians. Now these parliamentarians can belong to different political parties or can be individuals. Once the entire Parliament is elected, two or more people are nominated from among the parliamentarians to be elected for the Prime Minister’s seat. The parliamentarians caste their votes and select one of the candidates for the most powerful position (or the executive branch) in the government, i.e. the Prime Minister (PM). The PM is thus dependent on the Parliament for being elected and the Parliament holds the PM responsible for his/her performance throughout the 5 years of his/her tenure. The executive and legislative branches are thus, interconnected and have to work closely woth eachother to ensure efficient and effective governance.
Another fact that is important is that the Government of Pakistan is a federal government established by the Constitution of Pakistan. While we will be discussing the concept of “federalism” in greater detail in the coming blogs, just for understanding the federal government is responsible for governing all the four provinces of a the country, which together form the State of Pakistan.
Further, the government itself is composed of three branches: executive (led by the Prime Mnister), legislative (which forms the Parliament), and judicial (headed by the Supreme Court). The Parliament by passing new laws or amending existing laws defines how each of these branches of governance will function.
Here, we also need to understand that Pakistan consists of a bicameral Parliament. In simple terms this means that the Parliament is divided into two branches, i.e. the National Assembly (which forms the lower house) and the Senate (which forms the upper house). For any bill to be made a law, usually it is first passed by the National Assembly and is then sent to the Senate for Approval. It is only when both the houses approve a bill that it is sent for the President’s signature.
President’s signature? Feeling a little confused because the President is only suppose to be a figure head without any real executive powers? Well, while it is true that the President is a ceremonial head, he however does enjoy certain powes. For instance, the President of Pakistan can pass ordinances (laws that have not yet been approved by the Parliament but can stay in force for three months after which they will either expire or can be made laws if approved by the Parliament) and his signatures are required on any laws (that the Parliament has passed) before they can be officially enforced.
Now there are so many more elements to the functing of the Pakistani state, however we hope that this will help give you a basic understanding. Do let us know if this was helpful!

In our previous blogs we’ve spoken about a whole host of topics realted to elections and the voting process. In today’s blog however, we’ll take a break from these subjects and instead talk about two related concepts: youth bulge and democracy.
Let’s first start by understanding what the term “youth bulge” means. The youth bulge is a usual phenomenon in many growing nations, and in particular, in the least developed countries. To explain it in simple words, youth bulge refers to a point in a country’s history where the population of young people (i.e. 24 years or below) stands in majority. Thus, a country that is experiencing a youth bulge will typically have a large share of the population comprising of children and young adults.
Is this good news or bad news? Well, depending on how a country plans – or does not plan – to utilize the high levels of energy associated with young people is what ultimately decides whether a youth budlge should be read as a good or a bad news.
Let’s put it this way: imagine yourself in a room full of children. Now we all know that most children all over the world have three important charectaristics, i.e. they have a lot of energy, are curious and are more suseptable to learning new things. Thus, if we plan a day of interesting activities for these children, their energy can be diverted towards engaging in those tasks and their curiosity will be directed towards learning productive things all day. However, if we just leave them unattended for even a few hours the room is likely to paint a picture of absolute chaos!
This same example is relevant when we discuss a youth bulge, i.e. unless proper planning goes into deciding the best possible ways to nurture the energy and learning tangent of young people, this same youth can drive a country into conflict and civil strife.
Recent empirical studies suggest that youth bulges are associated with an increased risk of violence. However, historical examples of the Asian Tiger states also show that a country can reduce this risk through the provision of opportunities for young people, primarily by providing education. The level of secondary education especially appears to have a clearly pacifying effect on large youth bulges.
While expanding opportunities for education generally pacify youth, however it is equally important to ensure that with expanding opportunities for education, the prospect of employment opportunities also needs to be expanded or otherwise the unemployed youth will become a reason for instability creating a law and order situation.
Now what does all this discussion have to do with democracy? The answer is rather simple! Countries that have both youth bulges and unstable political regimes are likely to enter into long-term conflict as political instability will not allow for policies and planning to effectively utilize the potential of the young population and in the absence of such planning the alienated youth is likely to take justice into its own hands. Most African states are evidence of this hypothesis.
On the other hand, sustainable democracy allows the sitting government to make long-term plans for development that will inevitably take into account such indicators as health, education and livelihood – all of which will then contribute towards harnessing the energies of its young people.
Also, unlike other systems of governance such as monarchy or dictatorship, elections are held every few years in a democratic state, thus maintaining a constant pressure on the sitting government to offer its citizens a better standard of living or face the risk of being voted out. This pressure ensures that governments do not become lazy or take their powers for granted.
Accordingly, a democratic government ensures that development initiatives remain a priority to garner the goodwill of the masses. This in turn ensures that huge projects associated with better education, health and employment generation are constantly being introduced thus ensuring that on one hand the young people are kept engaged through education and on the other hand they become contributers towards development once they grow older.
Former UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, summarized this whole phenomenon perfectly when he said, “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”

We live in a world where each one of us is bombarded with at least a few hundred messages every day. Switch on the television or flip open a newspaper and there’s one brand or the other selling everything from shampoo to happiness! Out in the streets gigantic hoardings insist why we should try a specific restaurant or a new, improved brand of tea. For those of us who have pre-paid cellular connections know too well the menace of a constantly beeping cell phone owing to “mobile advertisements”. Then of course there is the social media where in addition to the paid advertisements the status updates, tweets and even memes have become a way to disseminate messages aimed either at promoting products and services or inspiring some sort of behavioral change.

Why are we ranting on about the constant flow of messages and media? Glad you asked! In today’s blog we will discuss the many ways and means that media shapes our world view especially vis-à-vis elections – and why it has taken centre stage in the last couple of decades as an important source for educating voters.

Let’s first try to understand why a free and fair media is considered essential for free and fair elections. To cut a rather long dissertation short let’s put it this way: a free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also essentially about processes where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices. It is for this reason that the media is today considered a key actor to democratic elections, which on one hand provides eligible voters with information to make independent choices and on the other hand safeguards the transparency of the electoral process. Thus, a democratic election with no media freedom would make it very difficult to ascertain just how free and fair an election actually was.

Well, as Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility” – thus it’s important to understand that media’s engagement in voter education as well as elections is not a one way road where media agencies only have to gather and provide a bunch of facts. In order to fulfill their roles, the media needs to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage. Regulatory frameworks, such as Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) can help ensure high standards. Such laws and regulations ensure freedom of information and expression while at the same time providing a code of ethics under which media outlets must operate.

The whole discussion about media ethics and regulatory authorities brings us to an important and emerging form of media, i.e. online journalism and social media. Citizen journalism is widely gaining popularity as it has provided average people with the power to share and disseminate information. In the 2013 general elections held in Pakistan we saw how images ranging from huge voter turnout to that of electoral rigging were picked up by conventional media only after they became viral on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, since social media is still an emerging phenomenon a lot of information floating around on the internet cannot be verified. It is for this reason that conventional media must be careful before reporting anything taken from social media sources. This is especially important because a prime responsibility of media is to provide the voters with full and accurate information.

Media’s role in voter education is not merely restricted to providing information to potential voters but it also serves as a platform for interaction between the political parties as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the public.

The Election Commission has a need to communicate information to the people and within general public to specific groups including the political parties, candidates, women, youth and minorities. Media then serves as an important tool for the ECP to reach out to its target audiences. Thus, both during the campaign phase and on the day of the elections itself, (much like the makers of shampoos and tea brands), the ECP uses media in a variety of ways to get its various messages through.

On the other hand the media too has a great deal of interest in the ECP. The media is interested in the information that the Election Commission has to provide and at the same time will try to scrutinize the ECP’s performance, efficiency and integrity of the elections.

The same formula also applies on the relationship between the media and various contesting political parties and candidates.

This two-way relationship collectively helps to keep the voters informed, engaged and encouraged to take part in the elections and safeguard against interference or corruption in the management or conduct of the electoral process.

When we think about voter education, most people assume that it is only the responsibility of Election Commission or the government to introduce activities aimed at making voters aware of their rights and responsibilities. Well, think again – because there’s so much at an individual like you and I can do to promote voter education! In this blog we’ll discuss the many ways and means through which each of us can contribute to community voter awareness raising activities.

There are a miscellany of actions that provide information on election procedures to both current and future voters. Most of them will take position outside the premises of District Election Commission offices. By being part of such awareness sessions, we can learn a whole host of things that we can do to support Election Commission f Pakistan’s efforts to educate voters.

Various activities, depending on our own interest, resources or comfort can be adopted for raising awareness among voters. A typical but very effective activity can be (participating in or organizing) awareness raising walks/rallies. These walks and rallies present a highly visible and participatory way of distributing information. They can take place in villages/townships/cities with students, District Coordination Officers, union council offices, Civil Society Organizations, rights’ activists, trade union members, bar association members, press club members, private corporations, local government line departments and other collaborators. Motivational posters and banners encouraging people, especially voters from marginalized groups, to register and turn up to vote, as well as informational messages developed by DECs can be displayed during the event. Bear in mind that local agencies will have to be approached before the event to receive a no objection certificate and agree upon a path that is both secure and visible. Voter education materials such as stickers, brochures, etc., developed by the Election Commission can also be distributed to community members during the event.

Baithak can be another activity for community awareness as these are community based meetings. Baithaks are very popular in rural areas across Pakistan. Such meetings can be arranged at the village level to share information and educate voters on electoral processes. All categories of eligible voters can be invited to these meetings.

Another activity that can take place with the help of DEC is “Mock Elections Simulate”. Such an activity simulates actual voting and counting procedures at the polling place on Election Day. The aim of the simulation is to present voting and counting mechanisms to the intended audience, by involving them in the process through participatory interactions. The target of the simulation is any group of voters or future citizens.

other activities might include Interactive Presentations and Q&A sessions on electoral processes, for this activity DEC members will have to be invited to visit sites frequented by eligible voters to furnish data on electoral processes and answer related questions from the community.

District Committee members and other stakeholders may help organize and deliver these presentations. Target groups cover all eligible voters, particularly those from marginalized groups such as women, youth, minorities and the disabled.. The presentations may be oral or conducted with the aid of multimedia facilities (where such facilities are available).

Finally, debates, skits and poetry competitions are the most easily conducted activities. Collaborations can be made with DECs and educational institutes. To spread awareness to the broader public, community members may be invited to attend these events at the premises of the institution or students could venture out to conduct the activities at venues frequented by eligible voters from the community, such as arts councils, community centres, government offices, clubs and associations, etc. DECs may facilitate the events by providing educational material, banners, honourary prizes and certificates. Sample topics for the activities can be ‘signifigance of the right to vote’, ‘why have elections’, or ‘need to accept elections result peacefully’.

So there! Now you know how you can become an educator for the eligible voters in your area by dedicating just a lttle bit of your time and energy!

In 2000, a new citizen registration system was introduced in Pakistan. The new process was handled by a new authority named NADRA. This came as a breath of fresh air, modernization of the most basic of needs of any citizen: their National Identity Card. Our old system was severely outdated, with no readable or computerized biometric record and I am not sure even if it was centralized. The new system, no doubt, sorted a lot of data maintenance issues.

But, as one of the most civilly “responsible” nation that we are, I am sure we still have citizens out there who have yet to get their new ID cards. Although, all of our legal documentation requires the NADRA ids, but still.

The process for getting a CNIC is relatively easy. A one stop shop, if I may be allowed to say so, can provide you with your identity paper in a few days.

A couple of months back, my mother’s CNIC expired and we had to get it renewed. She was avoiding it as she didn’t want to wait in long ques. Believing in the new digitalized process I motivated her to go with me on Friday a day NADRA has specified for female registration only. But I must admit even after giving her a good dose of motivation I myself was curious on the process and if it would make my mother wait for so long. So I consulted our best friend for research- Google on how to get a CNIC.

The process according to the NADRA web site (www.nadra.gov.pk) is as follows:

· Data Acquisition at Data Acquisition Unit (DAU)

Issuance of Token
Photo Capturing
Thumb and Signatures
Data Acquisition by DEO
Form Printing
Attestation & Form Submission
· Data uploading to NADRA Data Warehouse

· Verification and Clearance from NADRA Data Warehouse

· Printing at Production

· Delivery of CNIC to NSRC

Seemed simple enough and to an extent relieved me also. With a time investment of an hour give or take, I took my mother to the female NADRA centre for CNIC renewal.

But minutes after reaching the centre I realized that the website failed to mention, that the authority, being the flag bearer of the same slow paced system of our country, will make you wait for hours, with no proper seating or water or toilet arrangements in their offices.

Being the capitalist society that we are, your anguish of waiting in long queues, is shortened if you pay more. The value of your time is directly proportional to the amount of money you can dole out.

I fail to understand that even after “paying” why one does has to pay. Be it the lines at tax office when filing returns, be it while paying the utility bills, be it when one wants to get petrol or gas tank filled, be it when one has to get a passport or for the matter of this discussion a CNIC. How any “efficient” system manages to do that, I am always baffled. It must take a lot of planning and hard work!

But in case of Pakistan in particular there is one thing in the process I cannot understand- the attestation of documents. I mean NADRA has all the record in one place at the finger tips but will send us to get it attested from a 17 grade officer, whom in most of the cases will have no idea who we are. And the same drill is to be repeated for renewal.

NADRA was formed with the mission to facilitate people, make them feel valued and cared for. To an extent it did serve the purpose, but majorly some loopholes exist.

What is a relief for me is that my mother got her CNIC and I am sure the next time she will have to get it, it would not take much of an effort convincing her. All I wish that next time she doesn’t have to wait for so long and give the data that NADRA already has.

P.S. A note for all you readers is visit NADRA’s website, learn the process, make sure you all have your CNICs, share your opinion to make the process efficient and don’t lose hope!

In the previous blog we discussed about the various resources available for education of Voters in Pakistan. Today we’ll talk about District committees and their role in voter education.

The Voter Education Plan 2012-2013 introduces a district centered approach, which endeavors to build a direct relationship between the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and voters through District Election Commissioners’ (DEC) offices and staff. A crucial component of this Plan is the formation of District Committees, which will be coordinated by DECs and supervised by Regional Election Commissioners (RECs). Now let’s take a closer look at how these committees work.

District Committees serve as a forum at the district level where two way dialogues can take place between DECs and multiple stakeholders including youth, women, minorities and the community members as a whole. This forum provides an opportunity to share views, plans and updates, as well as to design and implement joint Voter Education activities that target various voter groups.

The Voter Education plan that was chalked out prior to the 2013 general elections, the District Committee can include but does not have to be limited to regional election commissioner (chairperson), district election commissioner (coordinator), community development department or social welfare department, CSOs (including youth, women, minorities and people with disabilities), representatives of political parties, representatives of local government departments and representatives of the Education Department. In addition to the above, DECs may develop an extensive list of other stakeholders and potential partners in their respective region, who may be invited to join the Committee as members or occasional observers. They may include but are not limited to former and current local councilors; Union council secretaries, District coordination officers; school teachers and college/university lecturers, lady health workers (LHWs), religious leaders, community leaders, tribal leaders, landlords, trade union representatives, journalists and lawyers. In short, any member of the relevant local community can be eligible to be a part of the District Committee – even you!

Before forming the District Committee, DECs may organize introductory visits to these various stakeholders or invite them to meetings at the DEC offices to present the ECP Voter Education Plan and their intention of forming a Committee.

Now that you know what District Committees are, now let’s talk about what roles District Committees Perform? According to ECP voter education plan, the District Committee meets on a regular basis and seeks voluntary participation of various members of the community. They engage community based civil society organizations registered with the district Social Welfare Department to work on Voter Education, seek voluntary support to disseminate voter awareness materials and focus on reaching out to marginalized voter groups in the district, including women, people with disabilities and all minority groups. District Committee also seek the support of political parties in increasing voter participation by developing district specific strategies to increase awareness on the importance of the vote and its impact on the country’s institutions.

In the next elections in your district keep an eye for the formation of the District Committee and play your role in Voter Education!