Imperatives for electoral reforms

Byadmin

Dated

June 1, 2022

Imperatives for electoral reforms

Currently, Pakistan is in the grip of imperatives for electoral reforms & feverish agitational activity by the third largest political party in the country that was till recently in power demanding an early election. The agitation has rendered the political ground extremely shaky and it appears that sooner than later the doors to a fresh election will be slammed open. In this context it must be kept in mind that electoral process is the mechanism through which peaceful and consensual transfer of political power takes place in a democratic polity. Political parties, the vehicles of democratic political power, are driven to governance through an election mechanism. As with all exercises associated with power the electoral process is also not free from manipulation. The predominantly subjective nature of electoral process further complicates the matter. The intense pull of this subject has resulted in a plethora of electoral reform proposals forwarded by countless organisations, specialists, commentators and wide array of public. Since this is a public welfare measure affecting all and sundry therefore a vast input from a cross section of citizenry should always be encouraged along with wide publicity accorded to this exercise.
It is imperative to deliberate upon genetic composition, underlying assumptions, inherent limitations and supple variations of electoral reforms in Pakistan so that they become all encompassing and considered legitimate by citizenry. They should be aimed to assist an institutionalised democratic system by consolidating the right to rule. More importantly, the electoral process should be considered a continuous national exercise irrespective of the fact that its occurrence is periodic. One of its essential aims should be to improve quality and equality of representation. It should also address manageability of party system since it could not solely be done through legislative measures construed widely to favour political class only. The electoral reform should clearly draw lines between the roles played by executive and judicial sectors.
The fragility of Pakistan’s democracy is unique even in nascent democracies. It is due to an invisible arbitrary force that holds overriding clout in political domain and, to obtain desired results, massively intervenes in electoral process. The intervention is aggravated by the fact that the perception and goals of this arbitrary force are in direct opposition to democratic ideals and practice. The teething troubles restrained Pakistan from holding nationwide elections based on universal suffrage for the first 23 years of its existence despite been created through an electoral process till democratic order was folded by arbitrary forces who completely upturned the parliamentary practice adhered to by founding fathers to achieve a separate state. The military junta tried to swim against the tide under the veneer of a sham electoral process resulting in hitherto unheard of and never to be repeated Basic Democracy infested 1964 electoral exercise.
Having been successful in creating a niche for them in political arena the arbitrary forces devised and rigorously maintained an iron grip on democratic process although they were periodically constrained to accommodate civilian interference. The worst effect of the lengthening shadows of arbitrary rule was the initiative wrested by them to plan, organise and manipulate every election exercise in Pakistan. Therefore, contrary to electoral reform in established democracies where people value traditional practices associated with electoral process, Pakistan requires a real and complete break with the past. It is easier said than done but any reform content is required to make it clear that any interference, overt or covert, in an election by anyone from outside the designated electoral machinery will be done under pain of punishment. This aspect should be widely publicised and independent watchdogs, local and international, should be exhorted to look into this aspect specifically. It should become a mandatory part of proposed electoral reform package.
The emphasis placed on voter turnout should be watered down. Democratic polities often complain about voter apathy but accept it nevertheless because their long electoral experience has taught them that it is the expression of average General Will that counts and not its level. In Pakistan the urge for high voter turnout is directly proportional to rigging therefore it should be realistically assessed, even curbed, if possible. A push to achieve higher voter turnout distorts the electoral picture, exposes it to manipulation and increases election costs. It also attracts smaller groups to resort to malpractices just to prove their numerical influence.
Continuous delimitation of constituencies should be an essential ingredient of electoral reform package. A fixed time frame for delimitation exercise may be initiated keeping in view the relatively fast changing demographics and population shifts in the country. It is rather surprising to observe that Pakistan with a population of 220 million elects a representative house composed of only 272 directly elected members. Pakistan’s typical political matrix may be better served if the areas of representation are reduced increasing number of representatives. Dispersal of political mandate paves way for not only maximising representation but also accommodating disparate political ambitions. TW

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