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.

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.

Media is a force that may produce effects on the society positive or negative but it depends how much the driving force is aware of its aftershocks once a message is disseminated to masses. Governments do use media as a source of manipulation and are engaged in setting the agenda of masses at large scale through media sources. If this force intended for right direction it will produce productive results for the society as “Development Journalist” the term introduced in late 90s is still as much applicable as it was after the disastrous use of media for sole purposes by west forces to attain the power in general. Political system nurturing needs the fertilizer of healthy and free flow of information from every corner of the world and the information should be treated with the owed admiration without any prejudice of peripheral of semi peripheral Nations. When there is a free flow of information and the agenda setting role of media is on right direction let’s say for development of the society its outcome will directly affect the working pattern of governments in productive manner. When media start distributing the knowledge of rights of common people and duties of rulers it will surely bring a transparent, accountable and favorable political system that could serve the purpose of fulfillment of needs of public. Certainly the spread of information from one part to another with the help of communication channels and modification of the tools of mass media via technological development time to time has made the effort of sharing knowledge, wisdom, culture, experiences and experiments possible in very short time that formed a global society learning and sharing from each others. Media for the democracy promoters that corporate ownership and commercial pressures sway media content, sharply limiting the range of news, opinions, and entertainment citizens collect. Therefore, they call for a more equal distribution of economic, social, cultural, and information capital, which would lead to a more informed citizenry, as well as a more enlightened, representative political discourse.

Pakistan is blessed to have as many equally, if not more, talented intelligent and hard working women as men. We have Oscar as well as a Noble prize winning females in the country. We have Shiza Farhan, who added to the global recognition of Pakistani women’s talents by making it to Forbe’s list of 30 under 30 entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, when it comes to how well women fare in empowerment and decision making in general, the situation in Pakistan is not encouraging. Women in Pakistan have failed to break free from the shackles of the patriarchal structures at household and societal levels that stringently govern their lives. As a result, power and influence of women in the private and the public domain is severely impacted. Gender biases, coupled with widespread poverty and illiteracy aggravates the situation for the females. The distinction emanates from birth of the child, with sex marking the distinctive line. Social injustice towards females perpetuates deeper and deeper till the person is laid to rest. As a result, what we see around us is a case of missing leadership of women. Women are disproportionately absent from political leadership and the public life. They are denied equality of opportunities, which is a prerequisite to empower them into becoming strong and confident individuals.

Benazir Bhutto was the first prime minister of Pakistan. She wielded adequate authority and influence and was able to command respect through her contributions to the country. Her government was at par with the standards of modern democracy and comparable to any other male led regime of the country. Looking at her as a success story, it wouldn’t be wrong to recognize the strong family support and encouragement behind her that gave her the mettle to enter national political arena and acquire a high stature. Ms. Bhutto’s political rise, thus, teaches us an important lesson- if support, encouragement and enabling environment is provided to Pakistani females that is at par with the males, nothing can stop them from rising to the top.

The challenge then is to provide females equal opportunities and that can’t happen until and unless we change societal norms towards and expectations from females. While female focused policies, gender sensitive budgeting and ensuring access to quality public services are all important factors that determine the empowerment of the females, the real challenge will always be how the patriarchal structures that govern our societal function are dismantled. Even a challenge bigger than that is how much the females themselves are eager to progress ahead in life. To have women in leadership positions, whether it be in offices or the political arena, is a long journey that we all need to take. With local governments allowing greater representation of women from grassroots tier, there is a huge possibility for a stronger female representation in provincial and national assemblies. It is time to cash in on this opportunity.

We need to raise the level of education and awareness at both the household and the societal level so that women are recognized as, not inferior, but, equal to males. This equality must be linked directly to the opportunities provided to her since she is born; meaning that she is provided nutrition, education and health services equal to her male sibling/s. She has to be taken-in by the job market at equal remuneration as to that of a male. She must be allowed to make her own choices, with a free will, independently; confidently and courageously. She needs to be encouraged and supported to pursue her dreams, whether they be of becoming the prime minister of Pakistan. We should all support her to dream that dream.

Let us lead Pakistan towards development by helping our women in entering the political domain. Let us recognize and rejoice over their spirit and contributions so that we may have more of Sharmeen Obaids and Shiza Farhans. So that we may have many more influential woman prime ministers.

Regardless of limits set in election expanses by law, the political candidates spend much more than stipulated amount. Votes are sold, votes are bought in elections. Political affiliations, political support, and elections are manipulated by spending money. Money is used for campaign electronic and print advertisements. Money is used for running election offices, for corner meetings, and for Election Day process. Certainly, regulation of finances for political campaign matters because the free use of money can pave the way for manipulation of elections.
In each of the last 10 General Elections held in Pakistan, from 1977 to 2013, there have been many accusations (and counter accusations) of pre and post-election vote rigging, manipulation, and mandate snatching. Opposition and loosing parties often make these claims, and the mainstream media reports vigorously. For instance, in a famous Supreme Court judgment after the 1990 elections, in Asgher Khan Case regarding the use of money for poll rigging, the Court established that the Army had bought political loyalty. Such type of stories have regularly been in media all the way up until 2013.
Nevertheless, in the last ten years and so, though demanded several times, there seemed no legal reforms regarding political finance in Pakistan. There were not even presented any bills in legislature regarding political finance. Only the matter of increasing the upper limit of election expenses (from 1.5 million rupees (approx. 15,000 US dollars), was reported discussed in a cabinet meeting. The basic reason for this is that candidates do, in practice, spend much more than the stipulated amount; however, in order to conceal the violation of Article 49 of The Representation of the People Act, 1976, candidates deliberately submit misleading reports on their expenses to the ECP. As the ECP does not have mechanisms to enforce, monitor, and verify the reported elections expenses and violations of regulations and code of conduct, it is easy for candidates to mislead the ECP without repercussions.
The sections 5 and 6 of The Political Parties Order 2002, requires political parties to maintain bank accounts for party funds, contributions, and disbursement and to submit to ECP annual record. Similarly, sections 49 of the Representation of Peoples Act (ROPA) 1976, provides for limitation of election expenses to 1.5 million and one million through a valid single bank account for a candidate contesting elections for National Assembly seat and Provincial Assembly seat respectively. Additionally, section 50 of the ROPA 1976 provides for maintenance and return of election expenses constituted of contributions made and expenditures incurred to returning officers.
Nevertheless, for regulations of finances, there is need of enactment of new laws and implementation of existing ones, along with robust enforcement mechanism aided with state institutions such as State Bank, FBR, NADRA, NAB, and Judiciary.

As per projected estimates[1], 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.

[1] 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