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.
Being a woman myself, this blog post is rather close to my heart. I belong to the lot of fortunate urban women who can exercise their voting rights, however there are still many areas in Pakistan where women are either discouraged or out-rightly banned by the local communities from casting their votes. For quite a while now I’ve found myself complaining about women’s lack of participation in the voting process but most of my venting has been with close friends and family. However, I believe it’s about time that I stop preaching to the already converted and speak with everyone and anyone who’s interested in listening!
Now I understand that the 2013 General Elections showed some level of improvement, with a relatively higher female political participation. This is especially worth acknowledging because this higher level of women’s participation was despite terrorist threats and patriarchal opposition in certain remote areas.Women were also more actively involved politically, with more than 450 female candidates contesting for the seats in the National Assembly alone.
However, despite these improvements a lot more needs to be done before all Pakistani women can exercise their constitutional right of voting. Ironically, even today many political parties fall to the wishes of extremist and conservative forces when it comes to women’s political participation. We saw a glaring example of this in 2013 when the candidates of almost all the major political parties signed accords in the tribal regions barring women voters from casting votes or taking part in the political process!
This sort of behavior by political actors is unfathomable given the fact that under the devolution of power plan in 2000, the government reserved 33% seats at all tiers (national, provincial and local government) for women.
When given space and freedom to act, Pakistani women have always been a source of positive contribution in the political arena. Women parliamentarians have played a pivotal role in forming women-led caucuses and tabling key legislative bills. Furthermore, in Pakistan female politicians have held key offices such as former Prime Minister (Late) Benazir Bhutto who held the office from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996 being the first PM of any Muslim country. Similarly there are many female politicians from all the parties have held key positions. Equally important is the fact that the overwhelming presence of nearly 40,000 women in local councils since 2000 has contributed enormously towards mainstreaming women into politics.
In the same realm we must also acknowledge the efforts of Malala Yousufzai, young Pakistani activist for female education and youngest female Nobel laureate as well and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. While these young women are not politicians they nevertheless exhibit the immense potential that Pakistani women have and how they excel and make the whole country proud when given freedom to follow their passions and put their skills to practice.
I can’t emphasize enough that this is the right time to make a sincere effort in order to ensure the participation and freedom of the women in elections. Every little effort by you and me can really go a long, long way in empowering female voters in our country. So next time you want to indulge in some drawing discussion on local politics, are looking for a meaningful subject to tweet on or you’re planning on sending out a letter to your local newspaper’s editor, make sure that inclusion of female voters is among the topics that you discuss. A little effort from all of us is pivotal for bringing a big shift in women’s political role in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s outgoing National Assembly of 2013 was the first one in the country’s history to complete a full five-year term. This elected assembly was also exceptional in another aspect. The activity of female parliamentarians was astounding. 20 out of 53 private members’ bills during the government’s tenure were moved by women, and women outperformed their male counterparts in terms of formal interventions during parliamentary proceedings
Although I am not a parliamentarian or someone close to the house, but, as a keen student of media and politics, I often noticed that women parliamentarians went the extra mile and put in the extra effort to prove their worth. Interestingly, even after proving their worth and effectiveness, the number of female candidates contesting General Elections in 2013 were fewer (36) than the number of female candidates who contested elections in 2002 (38).
Females make up more than 50% of our population. But their representation in the National Assembly is not at par with these numbers. I am not sure that a man will be as cogent a representative of women population as a woman could be.
One way to have a greater number of women elected directly to parliament would be to mobilize the large number of women in Pakistan who choose to remain outside the political process. Although more women voted in the 2013 elections than ever before, there are still 11 million eligible women who are not even registered to vote. It is in the interest of all political parties to liberate these potential women voters.
We can only have an optimistic future scenario if women are given meaningful participation in legislative process. The collective wisdom of women parliamentarians would go a long way in addressing the issues of the masses.
The women politicians also need to improve their public presence. They usually shy away from gatherings in their constituencies due to diferent reasons. Women politicians should get involved in the extensive social work and enhance their interaction with the community to polish their skills of general politics.
ECP officials shared after the General Elections of 2013 that turn out for women voters was 44 per cent in May 11 elections and 11 female returning officers were appointed. However, there were some 500 polling stations where women’s turnout was zero. It will be prudent if a law is promulgated which declares the results of constituencies null and void where women are not allowed to vote.
I think the most marginalized part of our society is that of transgender. They have got no civic rights what so ever. They are not allowed to study, make their living doing honorable work or the work which we may do ourselves. We cannot accept them doing anything but begging in the streets or dancing at our weddings and child births.
According to figures, there are almost 300,000 transgender in our country. I am sure the figure would be higher. But as we have pushed them to the periphery of the society and our living districts, they do not gel well with the main stream population and now reside in places less frequented by others.
Though, our law has been considerate, but the implementation efforts were not that generous. Our constitution guarantees that every citizen of the country will have equal rights. “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.” reads one of the articles of our constitutions. But, can that be said when we talk about transgender?
They got the right to a CNIC just 3 years back!
A few of our parties approached them for their votes. Yet, none of our political parties’ manifesto had anything in it for this marginalized part of our society.
There have been instances of their involvement in our electoral process. One of them was brave enough to contest the elections. I was going through one of his interviews and it made a very interesting read. The interview showed the reality of our political system in a candid honest, yet shameful way.
The person said that even after the elections have gone, he still gets death threats. He had to be escorted by the police during his election campaign due to security concerns. The police is not helping in regards to the death threats and the best solution they have offered him so far is, “turn your phone off”. Just imagine the agony a citizen of any country would feel if those responsible to protect him would give such an answer. I am sure the other candidates would have gotten a better response from the law enforcement agencies.
The poor soul was not even eyeing for the win in the election. According to his own words, his victory was when his nomination papers were accepted. And that too were through Sindh High Court, as his papers were earlier rejected by the competent authorities.
Pointing out to the reasons of his loss, he was certain that funding was the most important aspect of a campaign. His opponents had enough money to plaster the whole constituency with their messages.
If we envision democracy being strengthened in our country, democratic values gaining roots in our system, we have to provide every one with a level playing field otherwise the current state of affairs will sow seeds of hatred in our political system to the extent of embitterment.
The transparency of spending during the election campaign is one of the most crucial factors which ensure transparency of elections and credibility of its results.
It especially becomes tricky when you consider spending of the incumbent government. The system has to ensure that the government in power is not using its influence to manipulate elections of using official resources in terms of money and machinery to sway votes in its favor.
There is a stringent clause in the code of conduct chalked out by the election commission of Pakistan in this regard: “Issuing of advertisements at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media and misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity by the Federal, Provincial and Local governments shall be prohibited.”
Since the advent of private media, election advertisement has become a very effective and widely used tool of promotion by the contesting parties.
I distinctly remember the last elections. Although, the caretaker governments took charge of the country for three months of elections, but, there were campaigns which I believe are equal to using public resources for electioneering. If my memory serves, almost four months before the elections, almost all the governments in the country started airing advertisements of their accomplishments and projects with pictures of their party chiefs and such. I am sure these advertisements were part of the election campaign indirectly if not directly. And of course were aired by resources from the public exchequer.
If my tax money is being used for a project, I do not see any right of any political party labelling as its own. That is my money being used for my progress.
I think a law needs to be promulgated which bars any government to “label” any project with pictures of even messages of their chieftains. After all, government is a public service enterprise.
Armed with my vote registration information and electoral information, which I got from sending my CNIC number to 8300, I ventured to the polling station to cast my vote. With a quicker heart beat and suspense that who will win the elections, I walked with my head held high, sure in my heart that my vote will shape the future of my country.
The whole country was engulfed in the colors of elections. Every street was plastered (sometimes very untastefully) with election slogans; candidates profile pictures and banners displaying their past achievements trying to influence the voter to give their vote to them.
I was welcomed by a long queue, of at least 200 people waiting to poll their vote. Of course, my first reaction was that of any one who is in a queue of bills payment or in a traffic jam. But, I was very happy that most of us have woke up to our civic responsibilities and that we have decided to exercise the power of our vote.
The setting was electrifying. Slogans of various candidates and parties were swirling in the air. Sometimes irritating, but was creating a splendid back drop to the process of casting vote. I saw a couple of groups heatedly raising slogans in competition with each other. I was a bit worried that they might go head to head but to my relief, nothing untoward happened.
After about two hours of waiting, at last I was at the desk of the polling officer who checked my CNIC against his list and verified my vote number. He marked my thumb with permanent ink. I actually felt very proud of this mark and felt like a girl trying to protect her fresh coat of nail polish from getting smudged.
Then came the desk of the Assistant Presiding Officer. He filled the counter foil with my details and stamped on the back of the green National Assembly voting ballot paper which he then gave to me. On the next desk, the second Assistant Presiding Officer gave me the white ballot paper for Provincial Assembly, repeating the same process as the first one did.
With my voting ballot papers in my hand, I felt like James Bond, going behind the screen and casting my vote in secret. Looking over my shoulder over & over again, to make sure that no one is peeping in my booth to make my “secret” public. After stamping my favorite candidate for both the assemblies, I walked out of the screen, holding the ballot papers very near to my chest. I did not want to lose them!
I put my white Provincial Assembly ballot paper in the white top ballot box and green ballot paper for National Assembly in the green top ballot box.
And I walked out of the polling station, with my head held high and warmth in my heart that I have played a small but vital role in shaping the future of my beloved country.
Being an avid Twitter user, I usually get my scoop of the hottest discussion topics in Pakistan from the top trends that do rounds on this micro-blogging website. One trend that has been popping up every now and then recently is #ImplementBiometricSystem. In all honesty for the first few days I was too lazy to search out what this trend actually signified – I mean I had a working understanding of what biometric system was but there was little understanding when it came to introducing it for the electoral process. However, eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I finally went to Reverand Google for some answers and what I discovered is worth sharing with you!
Now it’s not exactly a ground-breaking statement but for democracy to function in its true spirit, one of the most important pre-requisites is of course a voting system that is accurate, transparent and fully authentic. Biometric Voter Registration offers all these three traits and expotentially minimizes the risk of rigging. Biometric Voter Registration System (BVRS) is a highly advanced information system that allows to enroll and identify millions of voters quickly and unmistakably. Using biometric identifiers (such as finger prints or iris scanning), the possibility of election fraud is minimized, at the same time considerably accelerating the voter identification process.
While the biometric technique for authentication of voters can be considered the answer to Pakistan’s voting woes, however as is the case with all man-made things, this system also has its share of cons. For instance, a problem may arise in the management of such a large database. Secure Connections are needed for confidential data retrieval of the information. Also, given the fact that the use of biometric technique in the issuance of ID cards is fairly recent in Pakistan, implementing the procedure and giving all eligible citizens a biometric identity will take a long time. There is then the issue of the cost involved because biometric authentication devices are extremely expensive. Finally, the issue that is perhaps most pertinent to Pakistan is that of illiteracy. A significant number of the registered voters are not literate and if biometric voting system is introduced, they will certainly face a huge challenge in operating the biometric voting machines at the polling booths.
In a nutshell, yes, the system is tedious to implement, but once it is done, the biometric system can revolutionize the electroral process in Pakistan. Perhaps, a logical approach would be to pilot it in major urban centres first and then gradually move towards carpet coverage of all constituiencies in the coming years.
As per projected estimates, there are approximately 5.035 million persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan. Worrisome is the fact that only 14% of PWDs work, while the rest are all reliant upon family members for financial support. Even more worrying is that 1.4 million (28.09% of total PWDs) are children of school going age that do not have access to education. The question for us as a society is: are we doing enough to help facilitate the inclusion of these PWDs in the spectrum of normal life? The statistics presented, speak otherwise. PWDs are missing from all major streams of life. Their participation in socio-economic and political activities is limited by their characterization as weak and less capable individuals. While in developed societies, you observe the governments continuously striving to create equitably enabling environments for PWDs, to help them enjoy a quality life, with dignity, the situation in Pakistan remains discouraging.
Political participation of PWDs in Pakistan is marred by the social stigma attached to the disability. Not adequately facilitated to participate in life up to one’s full potential, the lives of most of the PWDs are spent in seeking help and assistance from people around them. Quite a few of us are unaware of the difficulties a PWD might face during the performance of tasks that we might consider menial and routine. The societal level of awareness, exposure and empathy towards the needs of this significant minority is not commendable.
Lack of government’s interest towards PWDs is reflected in the government’s failure to keep up with job quotas of two percent assigned to PWDs and adequate pay scales to ensure their dignified living. These problems are firmly enrooted in the lack of voice, empowerment and subsequent representation of PWDs in the political sphere.
In a society where even getting to the polling station is a remarkable feat for the PWDs, what follows at the polling station is much more troubling. Imagine yourself as a person on a wheelchair who wants to cast a vote. Convincing someone to accompany you to the polling station on a public transport is quite a task. Even those who are going to vote, might just turn down your request, thinking about how much effort it would take to get you at the polling station. The struggle is not over once you are at the polling station; a huge probability is that there are no ramps to greet you- you need to be carried inside again. Once inside, you are likely to face difficulty in mobility, as the polling booths are mostly overcrowded and congested, with people not much sensitized on the problems that PWDs face. If you lack eyesight or if your hearing is impaired, you won’t find specialized staff at the polling stations to assist you. Would there be brails for the sight-impaired to cast vote? Not really. How would the privacy of the ballot of the sight-impaired be preserved, if there is no braille? Or is privacy of no importance?
The plain truth is that Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of facilitating PWDs to ensure their effective electoral participation. Right to vote is the building block of democracy. It is an instrument through which the aspirations of people are reflected and actualized. If millions of PWDs are excluded from the electoral process, we cannot call the elections inclusive and fair. Inability to vote due to lack of facilitative mechanism leaves a strong question mark on the performance of ECP in ensuring that all Pakistanis are treated equally. Failure to arrange polling stations that are sensitive to the requirements of the PWDs is, in plain and simple words, a denial of the right to vote. Waqar, K., Dr. (2014, May). Disability:Situation in Pakistan. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://itacec.org/document/gaw/gaw2014/2.%20Disability%20Pages%202.pdf
I, like tens of thousands of others, commute from Rawalpindi to Islamabad for work every day. Every day, I make my way through the hustle and bustle of heavy traffic to get to work on time; to meet my deadlines; to be productive. Men and women, old and young, some on their own vehicles, others on public transport, irrespective of whether it is raining or scorching heat, need to commute daily. We all need to get to our offices to do our work, to make a living. We need free movement to perform our lives as normal humans, to perform domestic chores, to function with optimum efficacy. Alas, far too often, our lives are disturbed as a result of political agitations that are neither peaceful nor civilized. While, right to assemble peacefully, without arms is our constitutional right, far too often we fail to realize that it also has to be taken into consideration that public order is not disturbed. The essence of peaceful assembly, which is clearly a legitimate method of political agitation – is to get the point across to those in the realms of power- the policy makers. Not in any way is any assembly permissible that creates hurdles for the citizens and deteriorates the quality of public life by curtailing free movement and causing panic.
As a daily traveler between the twin-cities, I have faced testing times where my freedoms have been violated by, not peaceful, but, violent assembly of politically motivated workers of various parties. Disruption of public order and rejection of state directives is, far too often, a common sight. Scuffles between law enforcement agencies and enraged political workers and destruction of public property for no good reason during protests are frequent incidents that we witness and hear about in the news.
We need to recognize that we have blurred the distinctive line between peaceful agitation and violent protests. The nature of the violence is such that it not only has the ability to damage individuals physically, but also carries a high potential to inflict economic loss and damage our social fabric. When public order is disrupted by a political group through violent agitation that has no regard for the maintenance of public order and public interest, it must be rejected and not supported by the public.
There is ample space in every city to organize political protests in a peaceful manner. Sports stadiums, parade grounds and several other public spaces can be utilized by political parties to limelight their demands and register their voice on the media. Compliance with state directives on how to go about with the protest must be followed in the best interest of the public at large. Noncompliance with state agencies’ directives and disrupting public order, depicts a political party’s weakness with respect to respecting rule of law and demonstrates its lack of empathy to the interests of the people.
If people can’t move freely due to political agitation and road blockades, their livelihoods are directly affected, children can’t go to educational institutions, economic activity declines, patients can’t get to hospitals – everything comes down to a halt. You become a prisoner in a free country. Why should citizens buy such nuisance under the guise of right to peaceful protest? Why should societal freedom of movement be curtailed and public order deteriorated for the interest of some specific few? All of us want a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan, but we can only get it if we act in responsible and civilized manner. Unless political parties demonstrate respect for constitution and a high regard for rule of law, especially during political agitations, we cannot expect them to be a worthy custodian of the rights and liberties of the people of Pakistan.
The most important ingredient of democracy is the electoral exercise in which people surrender their will to their chosen representatives providing them an opportunity of deliverance in a given time frame. Though the delivery period of governance has a mechanism of accountability through formal state institutions, however, performance appraisal of the elected representatives is also carried out to make them accountable to the people through an electoral exercise to complete the democratic cycle. In other words, the edifice of democracy is raised on the foundations of elections which must be free and fair so that will of the people is exercised by their true representatives.
In Pakistan, the primary institution responsible for carrying out elections is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) constituted under Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. It is headed by a Chief Election Commissioner and comprises four members, one each from all the four provinces. They are appointed by a twelve-member Parliamentary Committee with equal representation from the government and opposition. The Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of Opposition sends three names for each slot to the Parliamentary Committee for finalization which are then formally appointed by the President for a five year term.
The Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members are the core functionaries to conduct elections in Pakistan. With a history of disputed electoral results in Pakistan, the wrath of an alleged unfair election has ultimately fallen on ECP and its Members and strengthening it is a major part of the proposed electoral reforms. The structural issues of ECP including lack of resources, autonomy and authority to carry out free and fair election and to make accountable those hindering a free and fair electoral process have been major impediments to achieve its objectives and are being duly addressed in the electoral reforms. However, the credibility of electoral exercise also greatly depends upon the integrity of Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members. Though the process of appointment of Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members are prima facie quite democratic, but still the same failed to ensure credibility to the elections and general election-2013 is the latest example which led to a political turmoil in Pakistan. The process, therefore, needs to be reviewed to enhance the acceptability of elections but is not being addressed in the electoral reforms.
Having half of the representation in the twelve-member Parliamentary Committee, the government needs just a single member for majority to make appointments of its own choice which is quite easy. Though some political theorists are of the opinion that government has the right for administrative appointments but others opine that the appointments in an electoral body should not be treated in the same manner. Requiring a higher level of neutrality to conduct an electoral exercise, the institution responsible for it has, therefore, been historically manned by judiciary in most of the democratic setups. The very act of revision of eligibility criteria in 22nd Amendment by making eligible retired civil servants and technocrats is against this spirit. There is a strong opinion that political parties being the most important stakeholders in an election should have no or minimal role in the appointment of electoral body. They should be from the judiciary with an institutionalized mechanism to fill the vacant slot of Chairman with the most recently retired Chief Justice or in case of his non-availability, senior most retired Judge of the Supreme Court. Similarly, the slot of Member from each province should be filled with the most recently retired Chief Justice or in the case of his non-availability, the senior most retired Judge of the concerned High Court. The spirit of this proposal is to devise a mode of appointment wherein the discretion of nominations by the government is eliminated. If it is incorporated and approved in the electoral reforms bill, it may enhance the credibility of ECP as well as of the elections carried out by it leading to restoration of trust of the people in electoral process and ultimately strengthen democracy.
Pakistan is sixth most populous country in the world, created on the basis of popular will of people in 1947 with the vision to have a liberal, moderate and democratic parliamentary federation. Soon after independence, Pakistan adopted British legacy constitutional framework and introduced the parliamentary democracy, following much from the Government of India Act 1935 – the last constitution of British India.However, Pakistan being a postcolonial state, the democratic experience was underpinned by the steel frame of bureaucracy and political stability and institutionalized democratic set up remained a distant dream. The country has a checkered history with a few interludes of democratic rule during the sixty eight years of its existence.
The first Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan was adopted in 1956 which was abrogated just two years later by the martial law. During the first eleven years, eight successively governments were formed and sooner collapsed. Unfortunately, the inconsistent democratic history continued till 2008, alternating between elected governments and long spells of military dictators since its inception.
Pakistan has travelled a long distance towards its march on the path of democracy. The parliamentary democracy collapsed four times primarily due to mismanagement, disproportionate development of institutional matrix and the mounting political ambitions of the military generals. The military dictators have always sabotaged political development and mainstream political parties; and have advocated religious, ethnic and tribal politics to legitimize their regimes by rigged referendum. Over the years, the support to religious and ethnic groups has led to underground nurseries for breeding of extremism and terrorism. During military regime there was considerable economic development and prosperity, however, Pakistan democratic institutions were crushed and country had to endure two wars with India. On the other hand elected politicians have not much contributed towards democracy rather have been involved in incessant cycle of corruption, dynastic politics, nepotism and money laundering during the short duration they were at the helm of affairs. The fruit of democracy – good governance – albeit remained a dream.
With the outcome of general elections 2013, it was for the first time that a politically elected government successfully completed its tenure was replaced by another democratically elected government. However, the credibility and acceptability of these elections remained questionable by some parties in the opposition, till an “Inquiry Commission” comprising Supreme Court Judges which declared the 2013 elections were in large part organized and conducted justly and fairly in accordance with the law and reflection of the true mandate given by the electorate. Even now, the people of Pakistan have to undergo a long way in quest for the thirst of true democracy, leading to ultimate goal of good governance.