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!
Participation in election is an important phenomenon for the destiny of any country or for the lives of citizen inhabiting there, because through this process political parties succeed power and authority to rule public and make decisions for their lives. It means political system combined with electoral mechanisms determines the public way of living or thoughts for their life decisions. This notion raises many general and common queries which definitely come into many minds. Other perspectives of this idea can be like that “Are our life decisions are taken by others? Or government controls the life matters of its citizens. Are decisions taken by government are accordance with people needs and aspirations or governments itself decide what actually they prefer?
This is not a simple and trivial matter to be ignored but generally in our country it seems that citizen show an dispirited attitude towards the conduct of elections and usually express in this way “that whatever party comes into power always neglect the real issues of citizens and promises what they have had made with public several times or instantly start earning money to compensate the expenses they had spent for contesting elections”! People further think that what are the benefits of the conduct of elections if public issues remain unattended and majority of population remain under the poverty line without proper education, health and employment opportunities for all?
Actually the reason behind this public attitude is the political system of the country which could not have been stable throughout to engage the public to participate and prefer their aspirations? If we analyze properly and objectively it is clear that all our life matters are connected with political and electoral system and as nation we should not be disengaged with the system and should have complete information of the political and electoral system existing in our country like what features it has? What legal frame work operates in our electoral system and how it should be functional in accordance to the contemporary needs of current time? How should system engage maximum people to take part for voting? This political and electoral process also needs to be reformed through proper institutionally defined mechanisms. As “Human Right Commission Report states about 2013 elections statistics, that in final voter list around 10 million eligible voters having CNIC cards were missing from final electoral roll. Similarly there is an irony that state could not hold its census since 1998 and 17 years have passed and still there is no update data of exact population size and segregated figures for all age groups. Similarly delimitations of the constituencies was also long waited process which are not carried out by the concerned authorities to make sure the complete coverage of all eligible population for voter registration….!
I visited my university a few days ago and while passing alongside the cafeteria, I decided to step in and have a cup of tea. While I sat there enjoying the beverage; I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of young students sitting on the table opposite to mine. The topic was politics and all of the youngsters seemed obviously disgruntled. “What use is all this voting and elections?” One of them said. “It’s just a ploy to fool the citizens”, another responded angrily. The emotionally charged discussion of the students continued as I stood up and, introducing myself, asked the students if I could join them, which they happily agreed to. After telling them about the good times I have spent as a student of the university, I inquired what the cause of their pessimism in democracy was. The students were charged with resentment while speaking about deteriorating quality of life in the country and why it has become futile to vote, as elected members do not comply with their fascinating promises. I could sense an utter state of bitterness and despair as they talked about issues of bad governance resulting into load shedding, worsening law and order, corruption and inflation. Each seemed firmly adamant to not vote in upcoming elections. I decided it was my time to pitch in.
“What role have you played to change the worsening situation of the country?” I inquired. The students were definitely quite upset on my remarks. “What possibly can we do besides going to vote in the elections?” One of them asked. “Democracy and good governance can only be strengthened with the participation of the people, you voted in the elections, right? Now it is time for you to continue on the track and dispel the negative attitude you hold towards democracy”, I said. “If not democracy, then what system of government would you support?” I inquired. The students were silent, which gave me further impetus to continue on. “You should all utilize your right to information to get information from the government departments on issues that concern you or others around you”, I uttered. I definitely had the interest of the students now as I went on to explain that investing in country’s future requires more than just voting every five years and that it entails keeping a vigilant eye over the functioning of the government to ensure that the problems of the country are rectified. Time passed swiftly, as I soon realized that I had to go for my meeting with the university registrar, but I felt good that it has been a productive talk and that I might have informed and empowered these students. The smiles on the students’ faces did tell that their negativity and apathy towards democracy has been torn apart. Armed with knowledge of right to information as a tool for democratic governance, they seemed more empowered to play their roles as active citizens. I believe that I had played my part well.
It is often observed that, governments formed on coalition partners whether at National level or in provinces in Pakistan remain busy in safeguarding their coalition governments rather than doing their actual job of delivering on public services to people. From 2002 to onward till 2013 General Elections, all governments save few at center and in provinces were coalition governments. The basis of coalition governments is in multiparty system of elections in Pakistan. As against two party system prevailing in different democratic countries such as USA, Jamaica, and Malta, in multiparty system, citizens have different choices of political parties and individual independent candidates to elect a candidate of their choice.This practice is delivering good democratic trends in countries such as Germany, India, Finland, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, and so on and so forth. It is also observed that despite the fact that in some countries with multi-party system, two major political parties remain in power largely by turns. For instance, in UK, Germany, India, and also in Pakistan only major political parties forms governments. In Pakistan, similar exercise is being observed since 1970 and two political parties such as Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League with different flavours remained in power. However, the politics of conflict prevailing in 90s ended and political parties started forming coalition governments even with political rivals. The best example of this practice is observed in 2008, and 2009 when Peoples party formed coalition governments with PML-N and then PML-Q. However, the drawback of this practice was observed that such coalitions were based on give and takes. The governments now remain busy in protecting their coalition partners in any cost. Based on this fact people have now started blaming that these two parties have made collusion to form governments in alternate turns and intend not to deliver public services. The practice of coalition government will remain in Pakistan under multiparty system until there is made changes in system.
Political development in Pakistan is passing at critical stage as on the one hand, democracy has succeeded to achieve its continuity through General Elections 2013, and on the other hand, this hitherto recognized smooth transfer of democratic regime face threats based on often alleged accusations of electoral rigging, energy crisis, and ‘friendly opposition’. In view of some citizens’ lead by some political parties, the political party in rule have made collusion with mainstream opposition parties and face no opposition to whatever it is doing in the name of governance. This accusation may be true because in developed democracies, constructive opposition plays significant role in setting governments on right track and as effective tool of governments’ accountability. If opposition in parliament becomes friend with government, the process of accountability can be hindered. Nevertheless, one should make difference between constructive and friendly opposition.In Pakistan, as a matter of fact we can say that democratic development is at stage where both treasury and opposition are evolving constructively. On the one hand, governments are being made on coalition of rival political parties, and on the other hand, opposition now side with government on matters of national interests. The good example is the unanimous and historic decision of ‘National Action Plan’ by all political parties against terrorism in December 2014. Similarly, the politics of political tussle, blame game, and victimization prevailing in 80s and 90s have ended now. However, there is long way to go for good fruits of democracy and its continuity, and political parties will have to adopt international best practices of governance and style of construction opposition. The opposition parties should pressurize the government to follow broader national agenda rather than focusing on regional development according to constitution of Pakistan and also promises made in electoral manifestoes. The opposition, through parliamentary committee system, motions, resolutions, and questions in parliamentary sessions, can make governments accountable for policies adopted and their implementation. If opposition fail to do all this, citizens are right in their accusations of friendly opposition and apprehensions.
Know your candidate
In developed democracies citizens cast their vote on the basis of political ideology, collective interests, and manifesto of political parties. Nevertheless, in this part of the world where we live, vote is casted based on self-interests, biradary (caste system), language, ethnicity, sectarian affiliation, and local groupings ( dharay bandi ki siyasat). In doing this voters even do not really know the persons to whom he or she is voting. It is also observed that citizens vote candidates or political parties of their likeliness without knowing the profiles of political parties or candidates. Although political parties issue their political manifesto before elections, nonetheless, such manifestos remain locked and are even not read by their ticket holders, the citizens’ access to manifestos is the remote question. The candidates provide their information to election commission that also remain hidden from citizens. As a result, elections brings the parliament comprising a blend of various affiliations, interests, and aspirations.Due to this very fact, governments formed on coalition of political parties and some interest groups often fail to deliver the collective public interests in pursuance of their vested interests and aspirations. In disappointment, citizens think governments’ failure as failure of democracy and start blaming on democracy as flawed and failed system. The need of the time is citizens should learn the relationship of elections with democracy and good governance. Elections held in integrity brings a true government elected by the people through their informed decision. An informed decision is when voters know their political parties and candidates of their choice, their past performances, their manifestos, and their credibility of being good parliamentarian, their social and economic profiles. Such government formed on citizens’ informed decision will deliver good governance according to people aspirations. Only what matters is ‘know your candidate’.
Young people’s political participation has been a growing concern since long. Loss of community ties, lack of political process, low level of trust on politicians and growing suspension on democratic institutions are many reasons of youngster’s week political association. But recent trends reveal that youth are much more interested into political knowledge than ever before. Labels like “the youth are apathetic” or they do not care about politics are enforced upon them by a status quo that does not understand the needs of young people. Young people are concerned with policy developments and the trajectory that their country is going through.Pakistan is one of the world’s largest youth bulge country with more than 63% of the population under the age of 25. The young and dynamic population is considered as an omen to the prosperity and future of the country. According to ECP, out of the total 85.42 million registered voters, 19.77 per cent of total voters were less than 26 years of age, while 14.91 per cent were between 26 to 30 years. The overall voter turnout recorded in General Election 2013 at 55.02%, much higher than elections since 80’s. The massive registration of the young population in election is an indication of revival of youth engagement in politics.Although, the increased youth engagement in politics is a good sign for flourishing democracy, this gives rise to many questions on how to keep the young blood motivated for future. Several high profile initiatives aiming at youth political participation including the launch of social media campaigns by several parties and the distribution of free laptops to students by the Punjab government has failed to engage youth permanently. These are mere temporary efforts gaining the support during elections. But all the actions seem dying off after the elections. We have yet not witnessed any concrete steps taken by the government to keep youth politically active.There is a strong need to diversify the avenues for youth political participation to discuss national issues. There are several young aspirants out there, who are highly motivated to get involved into politics even at a very young age. What they lack is a platform, where they can enhance their political understanding. The ban on student unions and violent nature of university politics makes it unattractive for youngsters. It is essentially required to build political youth organizations to engage youth in politics and keep them motivated to play best possible role for the future of the country. Engagement of young people should be the responsibility of everyone. Youth engagement should be acknowledged as a stirring strategy to create an impact in the lives of everyone.
We often hear politicians referring to the ‘court of people’ on TV. Whenever some politician is prosecuted against alleged corruption, we hear this ‘mantra’ of ‘the court of people’. The argument goes like this: Since people elected me, so they will decide whether I am crooked or not’. I find this argument absolutely amusing. Never underestimate power of crooked politician in muddling up issues! How can courts of law be interchanged with elections to determine whether somebody is financially clean or not? Elections only determine as to what extent a political party or a politician is able to articulate the demands of people. So, a politician may be extremely good at articulating demands of people and corrupt at the same time. That is why people all over the word have at times ended up electing politicians who later turned out to be corrupt. So, popularity of a politician is not a guarantee that the politician is financially clean as well. When facing corruption charges, they want to go the court of law so that they could dodge corruption charges while riding on the wave of popularity. Another mantra of politicians is political victimization when corruption cases are lodged against them. It is a fact as politicians have victimized each other, especially in the 90s. Police and other agencies have been used as tools by ruling set of politicians for their vested interests, including for selective accountability raising doubts about the way corruption related cases of politicians have been handled. As a consequence, our politicians have ended up politicizing serious issue of corruption. This is where the trouble lies. In other words, corruption is too serious a business to be left alone to the politicians. However, it is these politicians as our elected representatives have to put in place an accountability mechanism which has the legitimacy to conduct across-the-board accountability. In this regard, media, civil society groups and concerned citizens will have to play a crucial role in ensuring that effective accountability mechanisms are put in place at federal level and in all provinces. In this connection, comparative performance of recently established accountability commission in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and National Accountability Bureau can be very instructive after couple of years.