Hoor Israr discusses an
The question of contesting Contesting elections from multiple seats from more than one constituency has been raised consistently over the years with serious objections raised about this issue from many quarters but to no avail. It is clearly an exploitative political practice adopted by political groups to cash the popularity of their leaders as happened in case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and recently Imran Khan. Such practice deliberately ignored the aspirations of the electorate of the constituencies that may have wanted to elect an indigenous representative. This practice also ignored the unnecessary waste of resources that never became part of the larger political discourse as the political parties willingly suppressed this issue. In this context the matter is required to be examined from the perspective of political standing, political risk and political messaging.
It is quite clear that a popular political operative wants to play safe personally and also for his party and wants to capitalise his popularity by gaining as many seats in the assembly as possible. By its very nature, political game is uncertain and myriad factors coming into play can alter its outcome compelling the players to ensure safety from multiple angles and one method is to cash the popularity of the leader. Pakistani constitution allows politicians to contest elections from more than one seat and politicians in successive generations have taken advantage of this allowance. The rationale is that in a democracy, a candidate should be allowed to present his perspective to the constituencies from which he wishes to contest and there is no territorial limit to such presentation.
Adherence to this lofty ideal of democracy ignores the so-called mundane consideration of significant waste of resources. If a politician wins in all the constituencies as has recently happened in case of Imran Khan winning in six out of seven constituencies he contested, then he will inevitably have to let go of one. This will mean a fresh round of by elections in that constituency that would entail plenty of waste of time, energy and money. This practice stretches the concept of democratic freedom to the limit and this stretch becomes self-defeating and may become tiresome in the longer run. It is required to be re-assessed in rationalistic terms keeping in view the emerging realities of modern world.
Apart from waste of resources, this practice also reeks of an elitist mindset as it proposes to distinguish a populist leader as far superior a human being than rest of his contemporaries. He is presented as an iconic figure, almost perfect, immune to any earthly weakness and fully qualified to rule over rest of the nation without being questioned. It also goes against the spirit of the representation principle of people that provide for wider choice to the polity and it must be emphasised that frequent polls, by-elections, shaky coalitions and element of instability in government are all part and parcel of a vibrant democracy and any attempt to guard against them through securing maximum electoral seats through popularity of one leader is not a viable solution.
It is taking these views into consideration that in the National Assembly of Pakistan an opposition lawmaker has tabled a bill seeking limits on the number of seats a candidate can run for in elections raises a key issue affecting Pakistan’s electoral dynamics. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already recommended a limit of one constituency per candidate but the Parliament will have to make amendments to the existing laws for this to happen, something they are not agreeing to do. But the opposition Jamat-e-Islami lawmaker has rightly pointed out in the house that when candidates who are elected from multiple seats choose one and vacate the others this results in a grave injustice with voters as well as great loss to the national kitty. Citing ECP figures he said that conducting elections in one constituency costs the nation Rs.20.7 million implying that a country battling a grave financial crisis cannot afford the luxury of spending taxpayers’ money on repeated by-polls.
Apart from the question of wasted finances, it is not fair to the voters to be asked to go to the polls again and again. Other states in the region have already placed limits on the number of seats a candidate can contest on; India allows two simultaneous candidacies and Bangladesh three. It is in the interest of Pakistani democracy to place similar limits on running for multiple seats. However, this will not be easy, as an amendment to Article 223 of the Constitution will be required to place limits on the number of candidacies, with a two-thirds majority in parliament. At present, with an air of confusion prevailing over the length of time the current government has in the driving seat, and with the PTI staying away from the legislature, such a task looks impossible in the near future. The next general elections may also, therefore, feature candidates running for multiple seats TW.