expert-opinion

Electoral Reforms Imperative

The Election Commission of Pakistan should work as an independent institution absolutely free of any and all governmental influences and pressures

By: Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad
Published: February 14, 2018
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Despite being a land abundantly blessed with rich natural and human resources, Pakistan has been the unfortunate victim of an inefficient and ineffective governance system that took root soon after the country’s creation in 1947. Hence, the state of turmoil and unrest we persistently and perpetually find ourselves in.

The malaise can be readily attributed, among a host of factors, mainly to an unsustainable power structure, a corrupt-to-the-core bureaucracy, and an overburdened, skeletal judiciary. This needs to change now if we wish to face the challenges, and benefit from the opportunities, the 21st century is throwing our way.

Currently, Pakistan is seeing a major opportunity of transformation in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a component of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) visionary project to link major Asian and European economies. However, it is strongly being felt that with the prevailing disarray at home, the true benefits of this mammoth futuristic plan may not reach our poor masses, which are living in a state of misery not only in rural areas but also in urban centres.

The official all-okay reports, and onset or completion of mega projects being undertaken by the government, do not represent the ground realities. The GDP of a country does not reflect in any true measure the well-being of the masses, which is measured by the ratio of income of rich and poor, access to jobs, livelihoods, education and hospitals.

As Pakistan is now a key OBOR player, sustainable peace and governance here are crucial to the success of this program.

For us, the CPEC project is like a light in the tunnel for the poor peasants, who are at the mercy of mill owners and importers of agricultural products from India. And, sustainable peace and governance can be achieved only with an efficient and transparent electoral system firmly and irrevocably in place.

The transparency of the 2013 elections has been widely questioned by all the stakeholders, a circumstance which has led to turmoil in politics during the last five years and has challenged peace in the country, and resultantly the harnessing of economic benefits.

It may not be incorrect to say that the present and previous democratic governments have wasted ten years of the nation’s life, and that by introducing the 18th Amendment in the Constitution, our federation has been weakened. This exercise has proved to be lethal for national cohesion and should immediately  be withdrawn.

In Pakistan the research on electoral reforms is evolving gradually as new situations and conflicts arise within and among the political parties and misuse or misinterpretation of election procedures and rules occurs. The National Democratic Foundation (NDF) – an organisation committed to continued research to make the electoral system fool-proof, to safeguard the interests of the majority and to eliminate pressure groups from the system – has been directing all its endeavours towards ensuring that all the tiers of the government, like administration, judiciary, parliament and media, should function in harmony for the welfare of the masses and the strengthening of governance in the country.

The Foundation recently submitted recommendations for electoral reforms prior to the upcoming 2018 general elections to the chairman of the parliamentary committee for electoral reforms, the chief justice of Pakistan, the National Assembly speaker, the Senate chairman, heads of all the political parties and important politicians.

The organisation has strongly advocated the need for adoption of the following essential measures for smooth achievement of the goal of electoral reforms in the country:

  •     Appointment of a caretaker prime minister is the most important task. It needs ensuring that the incumbent should be a vibrant personality, physically and mentally fit to undertake a stressful workload. A committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Senate chairman should jointly select three names for the post, and the final vetting should be done by the army chief and the chief justice of Pakistan. Since, the army chief has to manage the internal and external security of the country, he should be fully abreast of the national political, financial, environmental and social issues, and his role in the selection of the caretaker prime minister should be recognised.
  •     The tenure of the government should be reduced to four years. All assemblies, including local government, should be dissolved after this period for re-election. The speed of technology and international development directly impacts the velocity of time, therefore the window of opportunity for a government to perform should be rationalised in line with the aspirations of the people and international developments.
  •     The quota for dedicated seats for women in the parliament should be abolished; rather it should be mandatory for every contesting party to allocate ten percent of the seats to women contestants.
  •     Political leaders should be allowed to function as party office bearers for only two consecutive terms to ensure that dynastic politics is rooted out from our political culture and that a cross-section of the party members get the opportunity to rise to leadership positions. This move will also minimise the emergence of smaller parties or pressure groups.
  •     A ‘none-of-the-above’ option should be added in the ballot paper to give a legitimate right to the voters not satisfied with any of the contesting candidates. This will open the way for re-elections in constituencies where majority of voters reject candidates, nominated by political parties or independent candidates. The present system makes the voters hostage to vote for candidates listed in the ballot paper, and disregards the overall opinion of the people.
  •     The Election Commission of Pakistan should work as an independent institution absolutely free of any and all governmental influences and pressures. The Election Commission should be constituted by the joint parliament and vetted by a judicial committee instead of the parliamentary committee. This system is being successfully practiced in Canada, Thailand and Indonesia.
  •     The ECP should be given an observer’s role in the intra-party elections under Articles 11 and 12 of the Political Parties Order 2002.
  •     The development funds at the disposal of members of parliament are grossly misused. Important works in the community are ignored simply because its voters did not vote for the ruling party candidate. Further, the projects completed by the development fund quota are not integrated or linked with any other development project and grossly lead to mushrooming of slums. This practice of corruption, and discrimination among parliamentarians, should be discontinued and all the funds should go to the local government and spent on projects benefiting the masses rather than on the basis of political affiliation.
  •     The electronic voting machine system has become controversial in the USA and France. In India, high courts in three states declared this system as unreliable. The Delhi state assembly has also declared that the system has been tampered. Therefore, the political parties and the ECP should drop the idea of the electronic voting system as it will further complicate the system and will create more doubts and litigation.
  •     It should be made mandatory for winning independent candidates not to join any political party. They should form the independent group in the parliament.
  •     If any political party wins less than ten percent of the national or provincial assembly seats, all its seats should be transferred to the majority party. This will ensure eradication of black-mailing and pressure groups. This system is being successfully practiced in Turkey.
  •     There should be separate returning officers for the national and the provincial assembly seats. This will reduce workload on them for legal and administrative matters.
  •     In each polling station, a polling assistant should be appointed only for the election day to monitor the process execution and closely observe the attitude and behaviour of political parties, polling agents, and election and administrative staff. He/she should be a retired civil or military official or a community notable from the same constituency not having affiliation with any party.
  •     The polling agent at each polling station should be given observer status and his/her attendance in the polling station should be mandatory during the election hours. The attendance sheet should be submitted to the ECP along with the election result of a given constituency after due verification by the concerned presiding officer.
  •     Consolidation of results should be done under section 39 of the Representation of People Act 1976 and should not rely on Form 14 [summary of counting by the Presiding Officer]. The returning officer must physically verify [recounting] the votes to validate the contents of Form 14, in order to fill accurate and verified data on Form 16 [polling station-wise result summary by the returning officer].
  •     Along with Form 16 and Form 17 [candidate-wise result summary by the returning officer], the returning officer must submit Form 14 and Form 15 [Ballot paper count by presiding officer]. By adopting this recommendation, the ECP will have complete record in its possession rather than being dependent on lower government tiers. It will automatically reduce the number of complaints to the Election Tribunal.
  •     Forms 14,16 and 17 should be uploaded on the ECP website as soon as they are received.
  •     The returning officers should be personally held responsible for any rigging. For the purpose, the amended version of section 68 of the Representation of People Act 1975 should be adopted.
  •     The ECP should be required to submit all collected record about the sources of party funds to the out-going speaker of the national/provincial assembly for debate. Discussion and conclusion on it should be held within the initial six months of the national/provincial assembly tenure.
  •     The qualification of a parliamentarian in the light of Sections 62 and 63 of the Constitution is an important parameter that has been grossly ignored. The parliamentary boards of all the political parties should be held accountable in case of a disqualification by the court on the basis of these sections. The ECP should also disqualify the party ticket board members who had chosen the disqualified legislator for at least two terms. This system is successfully practiced in Bangladesh and Turkey.

 

Meanwhile, in a recent harmful development, the government and the opposition have resorted to the deletion of the rules for a detailed statement of assets and liabilities and dual nationality from the nomination form. The original nomination form has been made ineffective with the new Election Act 2017 and raised the spectre of the opening of newer avenues for corruption.

It is critical to understand that the candidates are responsible to submit a detailed statement of assets and liabilities as per constitutional guarantees vested through Article 42A of the People’s Representation Act 1976 and Article 25A(g) of the Senate Act 1975.

The exclusion of such important provisions would create corruption-related challenges by providing safe passage to off-shore companies, and wrong financial disclosures as well as infiltration of foreign elements. The NDF’s subject experts and stakeholders on political governance foresee huge economic losses to the country in lieu of taxation and foreign remittance together with security challenges.

It is pertinent to mention here that ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was held accountable on the Panama Gate corruption issue due to these provisions vide Articles/Clauses “62 (1) A”, “99 F”, “12” and “78” of the People’s Representation Act 1976, that stand struck down in the shape of the latest version of the Election Act. Therefore, this exclusion has opened avenues of corruption in the upcoming election.

About the Author
Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad
The writer is the former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan and the chairman of the National Democratic Foundation