The primary pillar of democracy is the electoral process. For the same to be transparent and credible in true sense, people must have a free and fair opportunity to elect their representatives without any extraneous pressure. Any attempt to compel or force the people to go against their free will through extreme measures, particularly by use of physical or psychological force, is termed as electoral violence. In other words, the use of forcible means by an individual or a group to change the course of political will of an individual or a group of people during an electoral process is called electoral violence. The phenomenon of electoral violence is directly related to the social norms of a society. The social setups with low literacy rate, lesser political maturity particularly on part of political leadership, and weak administrative and judicial systems are more prone to political and electoral violence as compared to the societies who have a higher rate of literacy, developed political systems and greater political maturity.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of those countries where political systems have failed to mature due to intermittent military interventions, thus impeding political growth of the society. The major fallout of this has been lack of political maturity among the people as well as political parties leading to a culture of intolerance. Though political process has started taking roots, but the ingredient of tolerance and respect for people’s mandate is still lacking. The same emanates from top political leadership and stands true across the board for almost all political parties. The same is evident from the electoral processes till recent past wherein bitterness beyond parameters of decency among political leadership of various parties permeated to the lower tiers, leading to frequent incidents of violence during elections. In the recently held local bodies’ elections in Punjab and Sindh on 31 October, 2015, a number of people were killed including a single incident of violence on the polling day in Khairpur resulting in 11 casualties. Prior to this in the local bodies’ elections in KP, about 09 people were killed in a single day in May, 2015.
In order to eliminate the growing phenomenon of violence from our political and electoral system, the political environment needs to be raised to a higher pedestal of tolerance and mutual accommodation. The major responsibility for the same lies with the top political leadership as they are the main driving force to regulate political temperature in the country. The dominance of tribal mindset among the political leadership as well as general public which considers electoral defeat as loss of honor is the biggest factor of electoral violence in Pakistan. The same has trickled down from top political leadership to the lowest tier of political system wherein leaders in the heat of moment resort to rhetoric which charges the political environment leading to violence. In order to curb electoral violence, political leadership has to show maturity through an accommodating attitude and acceptance of people’s mandate as well as criticism within the parameters of decency. Simultaneously, the judicial and administrative setups dealing with electoral issues need to be more transparent and efficient as it’s the lack of trust in these systems which forces the people to self-adjudicate through violent means. In addition to these, the concept of elders’ committees at Union Councils comprising notables of the respective areas needs to be institutionalized to act as alternate dispute resolution bodies, particularly in case of electoral conflicts.