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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vote is the act of showing your choice or opinion in an election which is a cornerstone of every democratic country. By voting, people select their representatives who make the laws and policies. The prime part of voting in an election is the ‘Right of Vote’ which is the fundamental democratic right of every eligible voter. The legitimacy of governments lies in the fact that it is elected by the people. The higher number of vote results in more powerful government and it has more legitimate power. This leads to more efficient governments that can prosper the development of the country by stabilizing its political situation. Moreover, voting is a powerful way to send a message to governments and politicians. Overall, voting is one of the easiest ways to have a say in how society is governed. Thus, voting has an immense significance in democratic country.
If there is one thing that every country has in abundance, it is youth. As a great number of population consists of youth and it is foremost duty of youth to cast their vote. It is the youth that can challenge the country’s “hereditary” political system, and to put forward their vision in encompassing health, education and sports issues as top priorities. When young people are not participating in elections or they do not vote, then the governments are less responsive to resolving the issues of country. However, young people do not vote because most political parties are less interested about issues of youth related to health, education and development of the country. But by not voting, youth is losing an opportunity to raise their voices and their grip on the development of the country. On the other hand, vote by youth is the sign of a change which is thriving the development of the country. As more young people are receiving education and becoming aware of the significance of vote, the more is the development of the country.
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.
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.
While I was searching data of politicians with disability for my official task, I was surprised to know that there was not a signal politician (with disability), neither in our National Assembly nor in any of the Provincial Assemblies. I had also observed last General Elections and I couldn’t remember any person coming to cast the vote at the polling station that I was observing.
We normally say that building of inclusive and vibrant democracy solely depends on the active engagement of all citizens. The words that we say and the reality that we see around us don’t correlate. One is forced to think – are PWDs not our valuable citizens and their engagement doesn’t matter for us? Anyhow, to understand the issue more I tried to see the statistics of PWDs in Pakistan and was astonished to know that total population of PWDs (5.035 million) in Pakistan is more than the population of any of the individual countries population of Norway, New Zealand, Lebanon or Kuwait. From within Pakistan, PWDs population is more than the combined population of three cities i.e. Multan, Hyderabad and Peshawar.
This fact forced me to think that might be it is so because PWDs are usually treated as second-class citizens hence their rights to full participation in political and electoral processes are being compromised. They are considered as if they are incapable of contributing to their society and unable to have active roles in any aspect of life.
Equality of Citizen is our Constitutional right recognized under Article 25. Keeping it in consideration it is the duty of our democratic system to end this institutionalized discrimination against PWDs and focus on ensuring their inclusion at every level. As we are approaching towards next General Elections following questions came across my mind;
Should our political parties not ensure the active integration of PWDs into their structures and processes for their effective inclusion in the electoral process?
Should ECP not prepare the separate data of registered PWDs to facilitate them accordingly in next General Elections?
Should ECP not ensure accessible polling stations for PWDs?
Should ECP not develop Braille Ballot papers for visually impaired persons?
Should ECP not start special campaign to get the PWDs registered to exercise their right to vote and also to encourage them to contest the election?
Should PWDs be not allowed to use postal ballots?
Their participation in electoral and political processes is vital to have their voice in decision-making processes. Because with their inclusion in decision making process they would be able to enjoy equal status in the society, including transportation, employment, education, health, justice, and political participation etc. All stakeholders must work together to ensure that all PWDs who are of voting age must be registered as voters and should have access to vote before General Elections 2018.
Being an individual we should also think how we can contribute to make sure the inclusion of PWDs in electoral processes. Please do think to enable PWDs to exercise their right to vote with dignity.[Source of the statistics mentioned in the blog: http://hhrd.pk/crp/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/PWDs-Statistics-in-Pakistan-2012-2.pdf ]
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.
As per projected estimates, there are approximately 5.035 million persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Pakistan. Worrisome is the fact that only 14% of PWDs work, while the rest are all reliant upon family members for financial support. Even more worrying is that 1.4 million (28.09% of total PWDs) are children of school going age that do not have access to education. The question for us as a society is: are we doing enough to help facilitate the inclusion of these PWDs in the spectrum of normal life? The statistics presented, speak otherwise. PWDs are missing from all major streams of life. Their participation in socio-economic and political activities is limited by their characterization as weak and less capable individuals. While in developed societies, you observe the governments continuously striving to create equitably enabling environments for PWDs, to help them enjoy a quality life, with dignity, the situation in Pakistan remains discouraging.
Political participation of PWDs in Pakistan is marred by the social stigma attached to the disability. Not adequately facilitated to participate in life up to one’s full potential, the lives of most of the PWDs are spent in seeking help and assistance from people around them. Quite a few of us are unaware of the difficulties a PWD might face during the performance of tasks that we might consider menial and routine. The societal level of awareness, exposure and empathy towards the needs of this significant minority is not commendable.
Lack of government’s interest towards PWDs is reflected in the government’s failure to keep up with job quotas of two percent assigned to PWDs and adequate pay scales to ensure their dignified living. These problems are firmly enrooted in the lack of voice, empowerment and subsequent representation of PWDs in the political sphere.
In a society where even getting to the polling station is a remarkable feat for the PWDs, what follows at the polling station is much more troubling. Imagine yourself as a person on a wheelchair who wants to cast a vote. Convincing someone to accompany you to the polling station on a public transport is quite a task. Even those who are going to vote, might just turn down your request, thinking about how much effort it would take to get you at the polling station. The struggle is not over once you are at the polling station; a huge probability is that there are no ramps to greet you- you need to be carried inside again. Once inside, you are likely to face difficulty in mobility, as the polling booths are mostly overcrowded and congested, with people not much sensitized on the problems that PWDs face. If you lack eyesight or if your hearing is impaired, you won’t find specialized staff at the polling stations to assist you. Would there be brails for the sight-impaired to cast vote? Not really. How would the privacy of the ballot of the sight-impaired be preserved, if there is no braille? Or is privacy of no importance?
The plain truth is that Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of facilitating PWDs to ensure their effective electoral participation. Right to vote is the building block of democracy. It is an instrument through which the aspirations of people are reflected and actualized. If millions of PWDs are excluded from the electoral process, we cannot call the elections inclusive and fair. Inability to vote due to lack of facilitative mechanism leaves a strong question mark on the performance of ECP in ensuring that all Pakistanis are treated equally. Failure to arrange polling stations that are sensitive to the requirements of the PWDs is, in plain and simple words, a denial of the right to vote. Waqar, K., Dr. (2014, May). Disability:Situation in Pakistan. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://itacec.org/document/gaw/gaw2014/2.%20Disability%20Pages%202.pdf
The most important ingredient of democracy is the electoral exercise in which people surrender their will to their chosen representatives providing them an opportunity of deliverance in a given time frame. Though the delivery period of governance has a mechanism of accountability through formal state institutions, however, performance appraisal of the elected representatives is also carried out to make them accountable to the people through an electoral exercise to complete the democratic cycle. In other words, the edifice of democracy is raised on the foundations of elections which must be free and fair so that will of the people is exercised by their true representatives.
In Pakistan, the primary institution responsible for carrying out elections is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) constituted under Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. It is headed by a Chief Election Commissioner and comprises four members, one each from all the four provinces. They are appointed by a twelve-member Parliamentary Committee with equal representation from the government and opposition. The Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of Opposition sends three names for each slot to the Parliamentary Committee for finalization which are then formally appointed by the President for a five year term.
The Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members are the core functionaries to conduct elections in Pakistan. With a history of disputed electoral results in Pakistan, the wrath of an alleged unfair election has ultimately fallen on ECP and its Members and strengthening it is a major part of the proposed electoral reforms. The structural issues of ECP including lack of resources, autonomy and authority to carry out free and fair election and to make accountable those hindering a free and fair electoral process have been major impediments to achieve its objectives and are being duly addressed in the electoral reforms. However, the credibility of electoral exercise also greatly depends upon the integrity of Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members. Though the process of appointment of Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members are prima facie quite democratic, but still the same failed to ensure credibility to the elections and general election-2013 is the latest example which led to a political turmoil in Pakistan. The process, therefore, needs to be reviewed to enhance the acceptability of elections but is not being addressed in the electoral reforms.
Having half of the representation in the twelve-member Parliamentary Committee, the government needs just a single member for majority to make appointments of its own choice which is quite easy. Though some political theorists are of the opinion that government has the right for administrative appointments but others opine that the appointments in an electoral body should not be treated in the same manner. Requiring a higher level of neutrality to conduct an electoral exercise, the institution responsible for it has, therefore, been historically manned by judiciary in most of the democratic setups. The very act of revision of eligibility criteria in 22nd Amendment by making eligible retired civil servants and technocrats is against this spirit. There is a strong opinion that political parties being the most important stakeholders in an election should have no or minimal role in the appointment of electoral body. They should be from the judiciary with an institutionalized mechanism to fill the vacant slot of Chairman with the most recently retired Chief Justice or in case of his non-availability, senior most retired Judge of the Supreme Court. Similarly, the slot of Member from each province should be filled with the most recently retired Chief Justice or in the case of his non-availability, the senior most retired Judge of the concerned High Court. The spirit of this proposal is to devise a mode of appointment wherein the discretion of nominations by the government is eliminated. If it is incorporated and approved in the electoral reforms bill, it may enhance the credibility of ECP as well as of the elections carried out by it leading to restoration of trust of the people in electoral process and ultimately strengthen democracy.
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.