Pakistan Needs to Prepare for the Process of Fair Elections

Karachi, Aug 3 – Imagine a situation in which 4 candidates, A,B,C and D contest elections from a constituency. There are 100 voters in that constituency and the turnout is 40 percent. A,B,C and D receive 6, 9, 12 and 13 votes respectively, and thus D wins the election. If this situation prevails at most other constituencies, we will have a government with absolute majority although 68 percent of those who voted and 87 % of the total eligible voters never voted for that government. This may be summed up as madness bordering on tyranny. Technically this is also referred to as democracy.

Now imagine another situation in which three candidates contest elections from a constituency. They submit their nomination papers and make the required declarations. All three possess fake degrees, hold dual nationalities, hide their assets and have defaulted on tax payment for past several years. They have also been regular “bhatta” collectors and engaged in ‘ephedrinal’ matters over a long period of time. What is the chance that the Election Commission will disqualify any of them from contesting the election and becoming our next Prime Minister. The answer is ‘Zero’. While this may sound utterly sinister, that is exactly how the system is designed to work.

If we tax our memories hard enough, we will recall that it was only four years ago that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) conducted a fake exercise code named ‘elections’ using a fake list of 37.2 million fictitious voters. It then went on to multiply the scam by introducing some 300 parliamentarians who had cheated the system by acquiring fake degrees. Not satisfied with the level of spuriousness, the ECP also forgot the vital constitutional requirement of checking for dual nationality and thus pushed in another estimated 80-100 half foreigners as our law makers. Finally the ECP preferred to look the other way even when a parliamentarian broke away from police custody, was found using stolen visa card or declared a fake degree holder by the Supreme Court.

Will the next election replicate the ECP’s dismal performance of the past? Do we realise that we have the same infra structure, the same rules and the same bureaucratic mindset of the past. In the last elections the ECP came out with a brilliant gimmick. Enter your NIC, select the province and hit the ‘send’ button to search your voter ID. As there was no corrective mechanism beyond pressing the ‘send’ button, we ended up with a voter list of 37.2 million fake names. This time too, we are told to enter the NIC number, punch 8300 and send an SMS. One promptly receives a response which describes your electoral details. But how will an estimated 15 million dead punch their NIC cards and send SMSs from locations where (fortunately) the telecom industry has no access. What happens when the response indicates a wrong name or address. Exactly like the last time, the ECP has opted for a look-good process that neither corrects nor improves the current voter list.

The decisions relating to eligibility of those contesting elections ought to be based on scrutiny of facts. The ECP in this area is designed on the pattern of a glorified post office. It must limit itself to the business of collecting and filing nomination papers. It must not use eyes, ears or neurons of its own. It must wait for a political opponent or a party to challenge the information provided by a contestant. Once elected, it must wait for the Speaker to refer a case for disqualification. While the number of delinquents ran into hundreds, how many cases for disqualification were referred to the ECP. So unless the ECP has the courage and conscience to break away from its apathetic past and act proactively, it is likely to allow the same aberrations to reappear as our second generation of law breakers.

The Supreme Court has already declared that the First-Past-the-post electoral system violates the concept of majority rule, and has asked ECP to find ways to ensure true representation of the people. Despite having been specifically directed to do so, the ECP has taken no steps to move towards ‘proportionate’ or the ‘run-off’ system of representation. Pakistan ought to opt for a system of proportionate representation, if we wish to move away from the tyranny of a minority in the garb of a majority.

Will the ECP before receiving the nomination papers of a candidate also ask for the names of his / her party office bearers. Will the ECP check if they meet the qualification requirements for being elected as parliamentarians, as required by Section 5 of the Political Parties Order. Will the ECP also remember to ensure that the office bearers of a political party do not hold an elected public office, which is rather well defined at section 9 of the Political Parties Order. How come the ECP remained in deep slumber while this law was flouted over the past four years. If the new ECP setup can do just the few things mentioned in this article, Pakistan would get a fresh opportunity to build an equitable and accountable electoral system.

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