After years of struggle and delay, the parliament has moved one step closer to electoral reforms. Consensus at a time when political government is under great pressure may seem like a convenient distraction, but motivation and intention do not matter.
What matters is the quality of the reforms that will be evident once the bill is debated by the lower and upper houses of parliament last year. However, although the details must be analyzed and debated, there is another problem that must be highlighted: the unnecessary and prolonged delay to reach some kind of agreement on the reforms, even if not all parties agree.
Electoral reforms, the radical kind that Pakistan needs, cannot be implemented easily or quickly. But more than four years have passed since the last general election, after which a commission, headed by the then president of the supreme court of the Supreme Court, investigated allegations of electoral fraud. The result was a report with a series of recommendations to improve the general electoral system.
Unfortunately, until now, before this last movement, the electoral reforms had been treated simply as a matter of strengthening the Electoral Commission of Pakistan.
Although constitutional amendments have been made to improve the independence and autonomy of the ECP, the latter has repeatedly stressed the problem with the scope of its powers and the administrative challenges of holding general elections. In fact, there are speculations that the government only expedited a consensus on the electoral reforms under pressure from the ECP, which has been warning that new rules should be established before the run-up to the elections that should be held before the end of next year.
There lies a democratic problem, that is, the will to act only under pressure and apparently at the last moment, instead of improving the quality of the institutions and the rules that apply to them.
While the details are many, there are some central areas where reforms can truly take the process of fair and transparent elections forward. The three phases are well known: pre-election, voting day and counting. At each point, particularly in areas where media and administrative scrutiny are inadequate, errors and errors are evident. That is what contaminates the general electoral process and what makes it possible for the losing parties to question the individual and national results.
As the broad consultations and debate of the electoral reform committee have determined the reforms are mostly common sense and on strengthening the administrative apparatus at the electoral district level. Some of that is relatively easy to deliver, but a review is required in other areas. Regardless of the path chosen, it is time for the parliament to make some important decisions.
Elections are considered the most important event to run a country’s system. It is a decision-making process through which people choose individuals to hold public office. Then, elections should help to precipitate the national will in its truest possible form. The elections show the resolution that people have in the continuity of the democratic configuration.
However, in Pakistan, since 1970, almost all elections have been labeled as “manipulated” and “stolen.” That is why the political scene in the country has always been dominated by the need for electoral reforms. Generally, the term “electoral reform” is used for the purpose of introducing some fundamental changes in any electoral system.
Democracies can only be strengthened and thrive if a periodic review of the system is made and the necessary amendments are introduced. For example, our next-door neighbor, and the world’s largest democracy, India, has had comprehensive and regular reviews of its electoral laws since 1967, although the amendments made have been ad hoc and well suited to the interests of the party in the power.
However, no such revision has been observed in Pakistan for a long time. While the 2013 polls were proclaimed free and fair, with the largest voter turnout in decades, the process was undoubtedly marred by bad practices and irregularities. Shortly after the polls, there were claims of manipulation; For example, candidates recovered ballots from unusual places as “proof” of irregularities, while in some electoral districts it was discovered that many votes were false or even impossible to verify.
The electoral lists must be made according to the place of a resident’s habitual residence or where one or more properties are located. Unfortunately, in many cases known to this scribe, unfavorable votes were registered in their cities of origin or, in many cases, voters registered in cities to which they were not remotely connected.
A good suggestion will be to divide the electoral process into one day per province. This will help focus on smaller areas that handle the entire national process at once.
The issue of allowing the Pakistanis to be monitored to vote in 2018 and the use of the biometric system and the electronic voting machines were assigned to the Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Commission on Electoral Reforms. While some 2015 EVM state local reports may not be in use in 2018 due to “technical impediments” the right to allow voters to vote may face problems like “in many Middle Eastern countries, where a large number of Pakistanis are concentrated “, voting is not allowed by national laws.
An interesting question arises here; Section 6 of the ERA states that a resident may vote in any place where he or she is a resident. Section 7 continues adding that a voter will be considered a resident wherever he or she habitually resides, owns real property and if he owns more than one property, he has the right to choose the electoral area from which he wishes to vote.
In light of these provisions with an expatriate out of the country for a certain period of time, where is considered to reside “ordinarily”? Even if this obstacle is overcome, where is the voting done in different nations? Should the Pakistani embassies train and deploy staff for the voting process that makes sense?
The appointment of returning officers by ECP is crucial. It is a great responsibility to scrutinize the documents of the applicants. In addition to the provisions of Article 62 and 63 (Parliament should have revised and modified the clauses) some of which are impossible to quantify legally by courtesy of General Ziaul Haq, who turned the scrutiny into a circus for some in the 2013 election process, it is extremely important to obtain income and the corresponding taxes registration certificate with the application.
The officials who return distracted (responsible for the district) and returning officers (responsible for their constituency) are the most important hindrances of the electoral process. Both come from governments and federal and provincial corporations controlled by any government and local authorities. This is a legal stipulation. It is difficult to expect a hundred percent of impartiality. The quality and character of those selected should be beyond reproach.
Candidates and their entourage, irrelevant persons should not be allowed at any polling station. It leads to an effort of pressure on the voters no matter how indirectly and the personnel deployed.
In addition, it is necessary to develop a practical methodology for ECP to analyze that candidates spend the amounts in electioneering as legally allowed, that is, Rs 1.5 million for candidates to the National Assembly and Rs 1 million for candidates to the Provincial Assembly. But can ECP maintain a national follow-up of each country spent by the candidates? You need to think and form rules for monitoring.
Another suggestion is to add NOTE on the ballot. This gives voters the opportunity to reject all candidates named on the ballot by checking “None of the above options.” There is no reason to remain silent anymore. The logical result of NOTE will be that the elect will be more responsible to the voters. This will make them more responsible in terms of unfulfilled promises to the people they represent.
It will also make them more accountable to people in cases of rampant corruption, if any. In the final analysis, let people decide who to vote for. That is the essence of democracy. This should also mean that they cannot be appointed as advisers and presidents of organizations.
In the case of a direct 50% vote of none of the above, the security of all candidates must be seized and said candidates must be expelled for a ten-year challenge; the parties need to present new candidates instead of those presented previously. This option also depends to a large extent on the transparency of the electoral process itself.
The writer is an Advocate High Court Islamabad and teaches at the Best Law College, Rawalpindi.