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