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.

Democracy in Pakistan has historically witnessed multiple deaths in infancy by repeated military takeovers due to a number of reasons. The dilemma of failure of political leadership in initial years to take prompt decisions regarding the type of government and powers of federating units was the first act of weakening the foundations of a strong democratic setup in Pakistan. By delaying these decisions and not holding elections, which is the very foundation of democracy, the initial political leadership undermined establishment of democratic culture and norms by attempts to continue in power by any means which also included obtaining support of military establishment by giving it a formal role in political setup. Emboldened by the dependence of political leadership on military and continued internal political rift creating an unstable political environment, military establishment seized power apparently encashing the public perception to set things right. Democracy, however, became a permanent casualty since then and all intermittent attempts to restore it saw repeated cycles of same political instability, witnessed in the initial years, repeatedly ending up in military takeovers. The necessary ingredients of democracy include free and fair elections followed by setting up of strong and independent institutions of executive, legislature and judiciary. A strong executive is supposed to efficiently run the government as per people’s aspirations in properly defined legal parameters with the basic duty of protection of life, property and economic and political interests of the people. Effective and strong instruments of accountability are a prerequisite for this to oversee the executive from acting as dictators. An effective legislature is supposed to make laws to facilitate the formation and implementation of government’s policies more effective and transparent to align and promote public and state interests. Most important in this respect is the role of judiciary which is supposed not only to ensure that existing laws are being implemented in their true spirit rather it has to check the arbitrariness of executive as well as to provide easy access to justice to every citizen. In view of the above defined ingredients of democracy, it is still a million dollar question whether Pakistan is on the right track to attain these ingredients or it is still under shadow of political culture of its initial years of history. A review of the state of governance in the existing democratic set up with mainstream political parties at the helm of affairs since 2008, there are varying perceptions about credibility of democratic process in Pakistan. Critics question whether Pakistan has been able to strengthen democratic process by ensuring strong institutions of executive, legislature and judiciary? Has the government been successful in ensuring relatively better safety and security of life and property to the citizens as compared to past? Is justice being delivered more promptly and effectively than before? Do the citizens feel enjoying more political rights, civil liberties and greater economic opportunities in a political setup? Though some optimists consider that all these conditions have witnessed improvement and continuity of democratic process will further improve the situation. However, there are others who are of the opinion that leadership is still showing political immaturity like the leadership of initial years. They are of the view that if any party has reservations on election results, what is the harm in obstructing an independent verification of the same. Some also opine that failure to timely evolve and implement a security policy as well as lack of judicial reforms to ensure prompt justice resulted in establishment of military courts which has reduced the space of governance for civilian setup which is in fact failure of civilian establishment and may increase distrust of public in the democratic system. Though pessimistic, but some perception exists about a friendly opposition to government in the garb of reconciliatory politics which has eliminated a strong check on the government. Resultantly, with all these perceptions coupled with failure of political leadership to deliver may result in failure of democracy in the country which will only strengthen the voices who consider Pakistan as unfit for a democratic form of government.

As we hear a lot about local government elections to be held this year, it is important to understand essentials of an effective local government. Local government means devolution of power at the local level. In other words, there is decentralization of power and power is shifted from the centre to the local level. The assumption is that locals will be able to take decisions about local matters after local governments are put in place after the elections. If it happens, it will be a gigantic step towards democracy. Will provincial governments share powers with districts?
After the 18th Amendment in the constitution, provinces have greater administrative autonomy. Furthermore, the provinces enjoy greater level of financial devolution after the reconstitution of National Finance Award. The irony is that the provinces are not willing to share the financial resources with the districts exactly on the same criterion the provinces have got those resources from the centre. The provinces are trying to control districts exactly the same way the centre used to control provinces. Until and unless provinces do not bring their Provincial Finance Awards in line with the National Finance Award and share resources with districts giving them greater financial autonomy, an effective local government at the district level will remain a mere pipe-dream.

Though democracy is not all about elections, but still the electoral process has extreme significance in a democratic system as it is the cornerstone of superstructure of democracy. The electoral process gives right to individuals to elect their representatives who ultimately influence political foundation and direction of a government. In any civilized setup, while using the term elections, transparency of the whole process i.e., the same being free and fair is by default covered in the meaning of the term election. This has also been accepted as fundamental human right in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which sates in its Article 21 that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives… The will of people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” The internationally accepted basic ingredients for elections in an ideal democracy to work are that they should be periodic, genuine, held according to universal suffrage and by secret ballot. For being periodic, there should be an element of certainty of time frame in which they are to be held e.g., four or five years or any legally specified intervals guaranteeing the citizens a chance to change their leaders or support new policies. For being genuine means they should be free and fair offering equal opportunities for contesting candidates and political parties without undue restrictions of law, balanced access to media for all and an independent and neutral electoral process. For ensuring universal suffrage, there should be maximum participation with simple and easy voter registration processes for citizens with bare minimum legitimate restrictions such as age, residence, proof of identity, etc. For being held on the principle of secret ballot, the purpose is to ensure that no one except the voter knows whom he has voted for. The objective is to prevent intimidation or reprisal by those enjoying power in a society either due to their political, administrative or financial status. For making sure that these basic ingredients are a part of any electoral process, there is a need to have a neutral, independent and autonomous institution enjoying trust of the citizens and political parties to conduct elections. In countries like Pakistan which have experienced long stints of dictatorship, the basic ingredients for a free and fair election have always been tampered with by the regimes to obtain results as per their desires. Different methods adopted for this purpose have been uncertainty of their timing, making laws to disqualify ‘undesirable’ political parties who could pose challenge to ruling junta, administrative support to ‘desirable’ parties or candidates and above all maintaining a weak election conducting body which should neither have the will nor the capacity to ensure a free and fair election. Resultantly, the possibility for citizens to express their will and opportunity to change their leaders and address wrongs is lost and credibility of the elections is frequently challenged. Consequently, people lose trust not only in the electoral exercise but also in democracy as elections are foundation of the same. This is generally followed by a political system marked by conflict and instability strengthening the argument of failure of democracy and in most cases leading back into the vicious cycle of dictatorship.

The rigging in elections has become the popular notion more than that of democracy. Everybody from youth to old, men, women, educated, less educated, and illiterate persons all talk about rigging whenever the debate at hand is election or democracy. The rigging is so common a conviction that citizens seems disillusioned as well as disenchanted with democracy. The major argument goes what is the need of voting when our vote does not count and someone steel our mandate through rigging?
Citizens’ indictment about elections rigging is quite justified however citizens’ persistent argument of electoral process as vulnerable to fraud is erroneous on the ground that any inconsistency in electoral procedures can be rectified through citizens’ active engagement in elections. If citizens are well aware of the electoral processes, for example understanding the legal framework for the conduct of elections, the functioning of election management body (Election Commission of Pakistan aided with state institutions such as NADRA, State bank, FBR, Judiciary, Security Forces and others), moralities and legalities against vote buying, regulations of political finances, they can play their role against rigging. Citizens can play their role in two ways; first, they by understanding as well as following electoral processes can establish rule of law and set example for each other. Second, citizens can report violation of code of conduct of elections to concerned authorities. Citizens can also pressurize government for reforms in electoral processes and implementation of existing laws in letter and spirit.

The other day, I had some free time on hand. Browsing aimlessly on the internet, a link to the Election Commission of Pakistan website presented itself and I, for reasons unknown, clicked on it. There was a link of code of conduct for elections. That intrigued me and I decided to read through more than 40 salient points in the document.

I have to say, that was an interesting read. There were points on even the sizes of promotional material candidates have to use. There was a point which particularly caught my attention.

1. Criticism of other political parties and opponent candidates shall be confined to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of any aspect of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism based on unverified allegations and distortion of facts shall be avoided.

I have always been an admirer of US politics. And the thing which really attracts me is their tradition of Presidential debate. If I am not mistaken, the presidential candidates are to have at least two debates face to face in front of a live audience. They are usually on the topics of foreign affairs or defense policies, agreed by the candidates. In this debate, they try to tell the audience of why did they formulate such a policy and where the contestants policy lacks.

Unfortunately, that’s what I think is lacking in our political discourse. The deliberations and comparisons of policies of the parties. We are still in the phase of personality based politics. Our voters are not comparing or even considering policies, but vote for faces.

That is why, if we look at our political discussions, our political activists are not debating policies, but debating people of other parties. Thus, I believe violating the above mentioned code.

I mean I do not need to go in detail on what kind of heinous, baseless accusations are levelled against candidates, especially their personal lives during and after elections. This has to stop. If we have to mature as a nation and democracy, we have to think of policies and not what is in the closets.

I don’t want to sound as a very fine human being as I am sure at some point in time I would have done the same too. But the point behind writing this blog is just to take the first step towards a more disciplined and tolerant Pakistan.

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.

The phenomenon of electoral violence is a major issue in nascent democracies of the world. In order to curb electoral violence, a multi-pronged approach is adopted all over the world which includes transparency in preparation of voters’ lists, delimitation of constituencies, freedom to vote without any extraneous political, social or economic pressures, transparent polling and result compilation process and a fair and swift electoral dispute resolution mechanism. The trust of voters on the transparency of these processes leads to a higher level of acceptability of the electoral process which itself is a mitigating factor for violence. As elections represent a contest for power, the very process is adversarial in nature. The intensity of this ingredient aggravates where political systems are not yet fully mature, literacy is low, people lack trust in electoral process and tribal, communal, religious or social pressures prevail over political ideologies. Resultantly, people resort to violent means due to lack of trustworthiness in the legal recourse. In order to offset such sentiments and ensure confidence of voters in the electoral exercise, the basic prerequisite is a strong legal framework supplemented by an effective administrative and enforcement mechanism.

In Pakistan, the existing legal framework for electoral process for general elections is enumerated in ‘The Representation of People’s Act, 1976’. For Local Bodies elections, almost same provisions have been incorporated in respective provincial local bodies’ laws. Besides ensuring transparency of the electoral process, the said laws also contain provisions to check electoral violence through delegation of magisterial powers to Returning Officers (RO) and Presiding Officers and placement of all executive authorities of government at their disposal. It has, however, been observed that despite provision of a reasonable legal framework, the recurrence of repeated violence in elections in Pakistan at all levels has been common. Though the culture of using violent means to ascend to political power is deeply entrenched, the same can be curbed if the legal framework is further strengthened and is effectively implemented.

The lynchpin in the electoral process is the RO and if his/her regulatory role is further strengthened, he/she can be an effective check on violence. The primary tool at the disposal of RO to curb violence is the local administration including Police authorities. Though in theory, all the executive authorities of the government are at the disposal of RO, practically it’s the district administration which calls the shots as they have under their direct command a trained field force with personnel, logistics and training to handle law and order. On the other hand, RO is temporarily placed for a short period of electoral process and is considered to be superimposed on the hierarchy of district administration and is dependent upon them. This dependence and short term appointment practically relegates the position of RO vis-à-vis district administration, making him/her less assertive in carrying out his duties particularly in maintenance of law and order. This situation puts no responsibility on those having resources and burdens those having practically no such resources under their direct command and control.

In order to rectify this anomaly, the maintenance of law and order should be the exclusive domain of district administration. There should, however, be stronger checks on them to offset the apprehension of interference in elections by the incumbent government to its advantage, especially in case of Local Bodies elections as the district administration is under its direct control. These checks may include provision of a quantified weightage by the RO in the relevant district administration officer’s annual Performance Evaluation Report on the basis of his/her performance. On the same lines, RO should have the authority to penalize the political party and individual voters who are proved to be involved in any incident of electoral violence. The penalty in such cases may include stripping an individual’s right to vote for life or a certain period of time, depending upon the nature and intensity of offence. Simultaneously, the political party or candidate whose activists are found involved in violence may be penalized by reduction of their votes by a certain number or percentage or even banning a party or a candidate from participation in election for a certain period of time in the said constituency, depending upon the nature of offence. These penalties may be in addition to the criminal proceedings under the existing laws. A set of legal changes to this effect may reinforce the authority of the ROs who in turn will have a better control of executive authorities of the government at their disposal. Moreover, the strong deterrence of penalizing the right of franchise and participation in election by political parties and individuals may force them to refrain from violence in the electoral process.

The primary pillar of democracy is the electoral process. For the same to be transparent and credible in true sense, people must have a free and fair opportunity to elect their representatives without any extraneous pressure. Any attempt to compel or force the people to go against their free will through extreme measures, particularly by use of physical or psychological force, is termed as electoral violence. In other words, the use of forcible means by an individual or a group to change the course of political will of an individual or a group of people during an electoral process is called electoral violence. The phenomenon of electoral violence is directly related to the social norms of a society. The social setups with low literacy rate, lesser political maturity particularly on part of political leadership, and weak administrative and judicial systems are more prone to political and electoral violence as compared to the societies who have a higher rate of literacy, developed political systems and greater political maturity.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of those countries where political systems have failed to mature due to intermittent military interventions, thus impeding political growth of the society. The major fallout of this has been lack of political maturity among the people as well as political parties leading to a culture of intolerance. Though political process has started taking roots, but the ingredient of tolerance and respect for people’s mandate is still lacking. The same emanates from top political leadership and stands true across the board for almost all political parties. The same is evident from the electoral processes till recent past wherein bitterness beyond parameters of decency among political leadership of various parties permeated to the lower tiers, leading to frequent incidents of violence during elections. In the recently held local bodies’ elections in Punjab and Sindh on 31 October, 2015, a number of people were killed including a single incident of violence on the polling day in Khairpur resulting in 11 casualties. Prior to this in the local bodies’ elections in KP, about 09 people were killed in a single day in May, 2015.

In order to eliminate the growing phenomenon of violence from our political and electoral system, the political environment needs to be raised to a higher pedestal of tolerance and mutual accommodation. The major responsibility for the same lies with the top political leadership as they are the main driving force to regulate political temperature in the country. The dominance of tribal mindset among the political leadership as well as general public which considers electoral defeat as loss of honor is the biggest factor of electoral violence in Pakistan. The same has trickled down from top political leadership to the lowest tier of political system wherein leaders in the heat of moment resort to rhetoric which charges the political environment leading to violence. In order to curb electoral violence, political leadership has to show maturity through an accommodating attitude and acceptance of people’s mandate as well as criticism within the parameters of decency. Simultaneously, the judicial and administrative setups dealing with electoral issues need to be more transparent and efficient as it’s the lack of trust in these systems which forces the people to self-adjudicate through violent means. In addition to these, the concept of elders’ committees at Union Councils comprising notables of the respective areas needs to be institutionalized to act as alternate dispute resolution bodies, particularly in case of electoral conflicts.

Technology aided elections is the latest fever that grips those concerned in any way with the elections in Pakistan. To them it is a ‘silver bullet’ that will deliver free, fair and transparent elections. Apparently they are well on their way to reinventing the wheel. Recently ECP, on the recommendation of Parliamentary Electoral Reforms Committee, has piloted Biometric voter verification system (BVVS) in a by-election in Haripur. The assumption on the part of pro technology segments is that an overwhelming majority of the electorate during the 2018 elections will be a smart phone using one; hence will be more at home using technology to cast their vote. Media with an inch-deep interest in issues seldom does research and paddles the pro tech approach to elections.

In my view e-day technology alone cannot ensure transparency in an electoral process. It is rather susceptible to rigging including fraud malpractices and systematic manipulation; it is an aid rather than a replacement to human adjudication. There are several examples from western world like California, Quebec, Italy and Germany that has forego electronic voting machines (EVM) due to lack of transparency. Regarding BVVS Ghana and Venezuela are two good examples of what to do, and what not to do. Former faced failure while the latter met with massive success. There were many reasons behind the success like series of pilot projects, several tests, stakeholders’ consultation and acceptance, voter education, training of election management bodies, cost benefit analysis, contingency plans, risks mitigation strategy and last but not the least, that is of immense importance, is citizenry’s confidence on its electoral commission and electoral systems. Although election technologies makes systems fast, ballot counting accurate; curtail the possibility of multiple voting and voter impersonation on e-day, it would limit the ability of polling officials to facilitate multiple voting and voter impersonation. It is difficult, “though not impossible”, to tamper with the machines. Machines are opaque devices that cannot be fully observed; in contrast a manual system i.e. a balloting system instead of an EVM is more transparent and observable on e-day by anyone.

Point to a fact that the use of e-day technologies is a high cost, high risk undertaking whose benefits sometime fail to match the high expectations thus ending up in resolving numerous post-election complaints by election tribunals like happened in Netherlands where in 2008 EVM, having being tampered, were banned. It was the result of a group of activists and civil society (CS) who successfully demonstrated that the EVMs being used at that time could be easily tampered with.

In Pakistan’s context the CS should way out all options before advocating implementation of e-day technology. Pakistan is not the first country to implement election technology. Most of the western world has reverted to paper based traditional systems after experiencing huge failure with e-day technology (black boxes) having incurred huge losses with money and credibility.

NGOs can also play a substantial role in raising awareness about different countries’ experiences with the e-day technologies. Another way is to include global practices in elections in the curriculum and higher learning institutions can commission researches around the future election technologies.

Additionally those suggesting the use of e-day technologies must also take in to account the cost factor including not only the first time cost but cost incurred on maintenance, storage, software update, configuration, security etc; the state money which should instead be spent on the basic needs like health and education.

While there is a pressure by the opposition parties to adopt financially and otherwise unfeasible e-day technologies, the ECP can only resist such pressures if the CS makes informed decisions and supports the commission.

The advantages and disadvantages of using e-day technologies vary from country to country, as the challenges and issues faced by the existing system in elections. Therefore, there is no one answer on the appropriateness of using e-day technologies. In broad terms, the more complex technology is employed the more risk is inherent.

Think twice and look around!

Democracy is a system in which all the people or members of a society, community, country, state and nation have equal right to vote and power. Democracy is actually a wakeup call for the sleeping nations to alter their political fate. Every nation and state has its own ideology of democracy. It is a misunderstanding of politics that systems of government are like pieces of machinery which can be imported from other countries and would work as efficiently as they worked in the country of their origin; or a system of government can be successfully transplanted from one country to another. Every society has its own traditions of behaviors. Political and democratic systems usually arise from the traditions of behaviors.
Broadly speaking it is a system which starts at the grass roots and after building a strong base, goes on to construct the structure above.
The concept of democracy is based on the theory of sovereignty of the people. The effective realization of this principle is possible only if the people have the right to express their views and judgment. The system of democracy creates the political consciousness among the people by giving political education to them through referendum and initiatives. It promotes patriotism and infuses the sense of responsibility and dutifulness in the people as they are closely associated with the law making process. People of a democratic country automatically become more respectful to the laws, which are made by them.
Indeed the basic system on which the Pakistan is established in 1947 was democracy conceptualized by Quied-e-millat, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. However after that democracy in Pakistan was imperfect and was never been allowed to function, because of political cold war’s and political instabilities termed as democracy killers in all times of Pakistan’s political era.
Until 2013, Pakistan did not experience even one democratic transfer of power from one democratically elected government that had completed its tenure to another. Because previous democracies have been interrupted by military actions. But now the people of Pakistan realize the real power of a democratic state. They become aware of their responsibilities and rights to vote. This the turning point for the Pakistani democracy uplift and also for the rise of the Pakistani nation.
Wishing all of you Happy “INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DEMOCRACY”. Always vote with the open eyes its not a ballet paper…its our future.