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 Our old system was severely outdated, with no readable or computerized biometric record and I am not sure even if it was centralized.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

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

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

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

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

· Data Acquisition at Data Acquisition Unit (DAU)

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

· Verification and Clearance from NADRA Data Warehouse

· Printing at Production

· Delivery of CNIC to NSRC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the 2013 polls, I was among the thousands of Pakistanis who had resolved to vote for the first time. However, the biggest dilemma that I faced was to understand the process of voter registration. Nevertheless, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) prior to the polls had introduced a number of voter-friendly initiatives that made the task of registration easy and efficient.

The most important step in this regard is to know your voter status. This can be done by simply texting your Competarized National Identity Card (CNIC) number without dashes to 8300. If your vote is already registered, by doing so, you will soon receive a reply with your CNIC Number, Electoral Area, i.e. district, tehsil and city/town/village, Block Code and Serial Number. If you are not registered, you can have your vote registered by following the simple steps given below.

Firstly, of course, being 18 years of age and having a valid CNIC is mandatory. With your CNIC safely tucked in your pocket you must head to the nearest Office of Assistant Election Commissioner / Registration Officer located in your area. If you do not know where your closest office is located, you can find out by contacting the Election Commission of Pakistan and asking them the address and phone number of the office closest to your location.

Once at the office, collect the “Voter Registration Form” and fill it out. Once you’ve filled out the form, attach a copy of your National Identity Card as well as “Proof of Residence”, (e.g. any form of a utility bill including electricity, petrol, water or telephone). Once complete, submit the form and you’re DONE!

Overseas Pakistanis are allowed to be registered through their family, friends or relatives who live in the area of their residence in Pakistan. Alternatively, overseas Pakistanis can also download the registration form from http://www.pakmission.ca/QVOP.pdf and submit it to their respective counsulate in person, through regular mail or through e-mail.

After submitting the form wait for a few days and then check with the Assistant Election Commissioner’s office again to confirm if your name has appeared on the voter list. Once you have confirmed your registration, you will be able to vote in the General and Local Government Elections any time.

Abraham Lincoln best defined the notion of democracy as: “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. This represents the inclusiveness of democracy that is reflective of the wishes of the masses i.e. the general public or Awam. In today’s blog we will try to analyze the role of general public in fostering democracy at the grass root level.

It is ultimately the public, who is in the position to hold their representatives accountable. However, for this accountability the active participation of the citizens is imperative. Unfortunately in developing countries such as Pakistan the electoral candidates are chosen often on the pretext of how much development work would he/she carry out in the constituency. This constituency-focused approach makes perfect sense with regard to Local Government Elections (LGE) because the very purpose of the local government is to work for the development of the concerned village, tehsil or district at the grassroots level. However, when choosing a candidate for the National or Provincial assemblies, it is imperative to keep an eye on the “bigger picture”, i.e. to see the impact that the candidate or political party of our choice will have on the national or provincial fronts. As citizens, while a enjoying a better standard of living is our right, we must also be mindful of our responsibility to vote for the candidate or political party that (to the best of our understanding) will play an instrumental role in uplifting the plight of the country at the macro level. This is especially important because while local government representatives are entrusted with working for the betterment of the specific village, tehsil or district for which they have been chosen, parliamentarians on the other hand are also responsible for legislation, i.e. laws that govern the working of the state at the national or the provincial level. Accordingly, our choice of candidate while voting for the national or provincial assemblies is likely to have a much greater impact on the welfare of millions of fellow citizens across the country or the province and hence, it is necessary that we think beyond the welfare of our constituency.

The political parties do come up with electoral manifestos but these are seldom put into implementation and are rather showcased for media. Once the elections are over, the citizens, much like most political parties forget about the promises made during the electoral campaign. However, with the new age of technology, citizens in many countries are finding innovative ways to ensure that pledges made by political parties and their leaders during election campaigns are not forgotten. An interesting example here can be of “Morsi meter” an online portal set-up by a group of citizens in Egypt to monitor the pledges made by President Morsi during his election campaigns. This digital initiative has successfully been documenting and monitoring the performance of Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, providing the citizens with a platform to have their voices heard, to hold the government accountable and most importantly to collectively exert pressure on the sitting government to deliver on its election promises.

Moreover, lack of voter registration is the missing link when it comes to grass-root democracy or local bodies elections. As citizens we need to understand that our voting right is not a privilege but rather a duty and we must register as voters in our respective communities and furthermore we must cast our votes during elections be it for national, provincial or local bodies. Citizens also play a pivotal role in strengthening the local bodies as they elect representatives such as councilors and Nazims. The local bodies’ representatives are the ones who are responsible to ensure provision of municipal services in the area. Through meaningful participation the citizens can ensure that their voices are heard and public officials take the necessary measures. Holding corner meetings in our local communities or during Friday prayers can carry out such participation.

Lastly, democracy cannot take its roots at the grass-root level without proactive engagement of females and marginalized communities such as the religious and ethnic minorities, transgender people and of course the youth. It is important to point out here that females make well over half of Pakistan’s population. This fact alone makes them a key stakeholder in the democratic process and for this reason it is essential that we take into account their needs and perspectives and effectively use their skills in trickling down the benefits of democracy to the masses. Similarly, more than 60% of Pakistan’s population comprises of youth. It is therefore imperative that young people are involved and empowered to make informed decisions about choosing the government of their choice. Finally, minorities – be they religious, ethnic or gender-based – have to be included in the fold as equal citizens. While most political parties speak about protecting the rights of the marginalized segments of the society, we as citizens have a huge responsibility to ensure that the minority segments are involved in the decision making process (at local, provincial or national level) and accorded their right as equal and empowered citizens of the state.

Media, plural of Medium, is a Latin word which literally means an intervening agency, means or instrument used to store and deliver information or data. In general, it is termed as a means of general communication, information or entertainment covering multiple modes such as press, photography, advertising, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television) and publishing. The term Media was first applied to newspapers about two centuries ago and since then it has also obtained a political connotation covering all mediums used to communicate political information to cross section of people that reaches and influences them as well. Initially covering newspapers and magazines only as print media, it expanded its scope to radio and television as electronic media while social media is the latest addition to it. As it greatly influences the opinion building of public, it is also termed as the fourth pillar of state. Media plays an indispensable role in effective functioning of a democracy. In electoral context, its importance as a watchdog is extremely valuable. It helps the voters to make their elected representatives accountable by highlighting their successes and failures during their tenures. It makes a critical analysis of policies of governments to help them perform better or revise the policies adversely affecting the public or national interest. It helps to make a comparative analysis of electoral practices and electoral bodies’ managements highlighting successful models across the world to help adopt international best practices and policies. This makes the electoral process transparent, thus restoring people’s confidence in the very foundation of a political process and the system. In short, Media educates the voters to help them exercise their democratic rights on merit by making an appropriate choice of a candidate or party in the electoral process. The Media contributes in this process by communicating to the voters the right information about performance, education, experience, achievements, future agendas and previous role of proposed candidates, political parties, governance systems and procedures to help the voters make a sound decision as to whom they should surrender their political will for best pursuit of national goals. However, in this situation, a great burden and responsibility lies on Media’s shoulders that they should remain neutral and above all political affiliations while reporting the election activities. A professional journalist or media house needs to be above board to convey a report or analysis by presenting all existing dimensions and opinions about the parties and individual candidates with minimum possible bias so that voters get more educated to vote for the best candidate or party in the run. The present trend wherein the journalists, particularly the electronic media anchors, have transformed their roles more into analysts with focus on enforcing their own opinions and wanting their audience to follow their preferences is a dangerous trend of imposing one’s thought process on others which can simply be termed as Media dictatorship. A more dangerous trend is the misuse of media power by certain individuals in the name of freedom of expression leading to blackmailing of certain individuals to cover their misdeeds or undue promotion of others to help them elevate their position in corridors of political power houses to get undue benefits in return. Some individuals in Media resort to such short term individual gains at the expense of their institution for earning favors from those in authority due to the powers which they enjoy or are likely to enjoy in future, thus promoting corruption and nepotism in the political system right at the time of elections. A more unregulated face of Media is the new trend of social media where anyone can express any comments which are sometimes in total disregard of the moral, legal or social norms of a civilized society and may undermine the political future of a political contestant creating bias against him. The need, however, is of an effective code of conduct for Media and a strong regulator so that responsible reporting is promoted and false, malicious and malafide content is filtered out with the realization that such a content can lead to their accountability and cost them heavily as professional mediapersons.

Should persons with disabilities be part of the electoral process and contribute to the public accountability of elected representatives? Although 98 census puts figures of disabled persons in the country at 2.5 % of the total population in the country, disability organizations have always contested this figure suggesting that disabled population is closer to around 10 % of the total population. This population of persons with disabilities has special needs characterized by the nature of different disabilities. Persons with disabilities have to face multiple barriers owing to their different disabilities. They can only take part in mainstream life if attitudinal, social and physical barriers are removed. Persons with disabilities can only ensure public accountability of elected representatives with regard to the realization of their special needs and creating a barrier free environment if they are able to exercise their vote power. We all know that like any other power, vote power only has value when it can be exercised. Can voters with disabilities exercise their vote power independently, in secret and with dignity like their non-disabled peers? What access barriers do voters with disabilities face while casting their votes? What is the policy of the Election Commission of Pakistan in this regard? People with disabilities face manifold barriers that hamper their participation in the political process. Some of these are attitudinal and others physical About the voting rights of the disabled persons, EC maintains, “Where an elector is blind or incapacitated and cannot vote without the assistance of a companion the presiding officer shall allow him such assistance”. This statement pays greater emphasis on the goodness of human nature rather than providing the equal opportunity environment to the voter with disabilities. It presupposes that allowance of the assistance of the presiding officer will help the disabled voter cast his vote independently, in secrecy and with dignity. This approach is a very limited one and offers assistance only at the polling station. It does not spell out off-site help to those PWDs who cannot come to the polling stations. We need to make Bill of electoral rights for citizens with disabilities part of our efforts to make electoral process inclusive for persons with disabilities. This bill was “drafted and endorsed by participants attending a four-day workshop held from 14-17 September 2002, in Sigtuna, Sweden. This bill calls on all states to meet their obligations in providing equal opportunity environment to the citizens with disabilities so that they could exercise their universal right of equal participation in the electoral process. Furthermore, Election Commission of Pakistan should adopt Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities. These standards can be very useful in our context and we will not have to reinvent the wheel. These standards address all issues pertaining to the voting rights of PWDs like non-discrimination, the state’s obligation to “overcome specific difficulties”, the right to a secret vote in public, providing options to the voters with disabilities in deciding the alternative ways they want to cast their votes, assistive voting, off-site voting and promulgation of instructions to the polling staff regarding voters with disabilities. [These standards can be very useful in our context and we will not have to reinvent the wheel. These standards address all issues pertaining to the voting rights of PWDs like non-discrimination, the state’s obligation to “overcome specific difficulties”, the right to a secret vote in public, providing options to the voters with disabilities in deciding the alternative ways they want to cast their votes, assistive voting, off-site voting and promulgation of instructions to the polling staff regarding voters with disabilities. Furthermore, Election Commission of Pakistan should adopt Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities.

Pakistan is democratic country that has witnessed intermittent elections due to repeated military takeovers. Due to this, the continuity of political processes, democratic development and institutional building in the country remained a dream. In 2013, country experienced the smooth transfer of power from one democratic regime to another because of hence to supposedly transparent, free, and fair General Elections 2013. Nevertheless, currently Pakistan is witnessing political crisis owing to alleged rigging in May 2013 General Elections invoked by some opposition political parties. The accusations and counter accusations have to be judged by the competent commission. However, the alleged or one can say a possible rigging in elections are mainly due to either non-availability or due to non-implementation of strong and effective legal framework related with electoral processes. The laws related with conduct of elections, political finances, and political parties are name of the few. The democratic development of Pakistan being in transition phase, there is need of electoral reforms that must include the requirement of enactment of new laws for political finance regulations and the steps taken to implement the existing one with letter and spirit. Pakistan legal framework for political finance regulation provides for three things, for instance, the prohibitions, limitations, and disclosure. If we review the existing laws, the legal provisions are either vague or incomplete and if available are partially implemented or mostly not implemented at all. Political parties and individual candidates spend funds on electoral campaign which are not strictly monitored according to law by concerned authority. According to law, as stipulated in sections 5 and 6 of ‘The Political Parties Order 2002, the political parties have 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 1976, provides for limitation of election expenses to 1.5 million through a valid single bank account for a candidate contesting elections for National Assembly seat and limitation of election expenses of 1 million for a contesting candidate of Provincial Assembly seat. 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. As a matter of practice, after elections only few of the electoral candidates submit returns to ECP. Nevertheless, the returned candidates have to submit election expanses returns unless their official notification of being returned candidates is held by ECP. But, such returns are not counter verified during or after elections. Resultantly, there are observed several incidents of violations of election laws related with election spending. There is need to implement the existing political finance regulations and to enact the ones that are missing to make electoral process of Pakistan more robust, strong and independent of any influences. The need of enactment of new laws would be covered in subsequent blogs.

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.