Electoral Reforms: Way forward for sustainable ‘Peace & Governance’

The former Secretary to the Election Commission of Pakistan argues that the electoral system itself is what causes chaos and turmoil for the masses, the political groups, and military interventions.


Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has endured tremendous suffering at the hands of inefficient and ineffective governance which has, in turn, caused great unrest in society. This is unfortunate because Pakistan possesses a great treasury of natural and human resources but it has not been able to create an organizational structure that can allow it to capitalize on these resources.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this misfortune namely; unsustainable governance, an inefficient bureaucracy, and an arbitrary democratic system which is also plagued with the disease of corruption. The dynastic system of control that lies beneath the facade of democracy along with the political penetration that has seeped into the judicial system in Pakistan, has caused the all-encompassing corruption present within these systems to rise to the surface creating a widespread need for a radical transformation.

Despite these challenges, Pakistan is currently availing a major opportunity that is transforming the entire landscape of the nation in the form of CPEC. However, an imminent concern that arises out of this regional venture is that the economic benefits will not trickle down to the poor masses, who are not only living beneath the poverty line in rural areas but also in urban ones.

It is completely incomprehensible how a laborer that earns a meager amount of 2-3 thousand rupees [equivalent to US $ 20-30] per month is even able to manage basic survival. The rampant mismanagement that is present in government social safety net programs, such as BISP, that make the headlines of various newspapers every other day, is simply the result of inefficient governance at every level.

The pensions that had once allowed people to peacefully retire have now become uncertain due to the fact that government saving schemes are now at the mercy of open market interest rates. Meanwhile, to further fuel the economic discrepancies between the different social classes, the rich continue to shamelessly evade taxes causing the lower and middle classes to suffer from over-taxation that is a direct result of mounting indirect taxes.

Since Pakistan is now a key player of the One-Belt One-Road program (OBOR), sustainable peace and governance is a mandatory prerequisite for ensuring that the program is successful; keeping in mind the fact that it aims to bring radical transformations in many countries throughout the region and beyond. Sustainable peace and governance is fundamentally dependant on an efficient and transparent electoral system – something the electoral system has failed to achieve.

Read more: Is Democracy merely rule of the majority?

The 2013 elections and the subsequent process that followed has not only been questioned but severely criticized by all the major political parties, resulting in unprecedented chaos and turmoil throughout the country for four long years. The incompetence of the Election Commission to ensure transparency in their procedures has disrupted the country at every social, political, and economic level.

Although this conclusion may come across as harsh, the indisputable truth of the matter is that the present, as well as the previous dynastic regimes that have been operating under the veneer of democracy, have managed to waste 10 years of the nation. Furthermore, the incorporation of the 18th amendment in the constitution while being completely devoid of transparency has also given these oligarchs limitless power that has caused the federation to be drastically weakened.

It is absolutely crucial for the peace and political stability of the nation that electoral reforms are introduced before the coming 2018 elections. Free, fair, and transparent elections are the cornerstone upon which the foundation of democracy stands; making it an indispensable component, that is absolutely necessary for guaranteeing the success of CPEC and ensuring regional peace.

Most citizens that have a certain level of awareness truly believe that the main opposition party, PTI, should have demanded rigorous electoral reforms, rather than wasting time in mass protests, that diluted the significance of these reforms by giving importance to less crucial matters. They should have aimed to address the central problem of electoral reforms, instead, they focused on the issue of corruption and lamented inefficient governance.

In fact, the Electoral System itself is what causes chaos and turmoil for the masses, the political groups, and military interventions.

The dynastic system of control under the facade of democracy, and politically penetrated judicial system in Pakistan are now widely seen to be arbitrary and corrupt and have to be transformed.

The National Democratic Forum, a strong advocate for electoral reforms, has submitted 25 recommendations to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Electoral Reforms, Mr. Ishaq Dar, Chief Justice of Pakistan, Speaker of National Assembly, Chairman Senate, heads of all the political parties and important politicians. The following are the long-term necessary recommendations that have been proposed:

1. The appointment of a caretaker Prime Minister: This is one of the most important points to ensure fair and unhindered elections – the caretaker Prime Minister should be a vibrant personality who is physically and mentally fit to handle a stressful workload. A committee comprising of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and Chairman Senate should jointly select 3 names for the caretaker Prime Minister, and final vetting should be done by the Army Chief and Chief Justice of Pakistan. Since the Army Chief has to manage the internal and external security of the country, he should be highly vigilant with the national, political, financial, environmental, and social issues, and his role in the selection of caretaker Prime Minister should be recognized.

2. The tenure of the government should be reduced to 4 years, meaning thereby that all assemblies including local government should be dissolved after every 4 years 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 rationalized in line with the aspirations of people and international developments.

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3. The quota for dedicated seats for women in parliament should be abolished and it should be mandatory for every contesting party to allocate 10% of the seats to female candidates.

4. Political leaders should be allowed to function as political party office bearers for only two consecutive terms to ensure that dynasty politics does not grow in our political culture and that cross-section of the political party members get the opportunity to rise to the leadership cadres. This move will minimize the emergence of smaller parties or pressure groups.

5. An additional category of ‘none of the above’ should be added to the ballot paper to give a legitimate right to the voters who are not satisfied with any of the election contesting candidates. Thus, paving the way for re-elections for constituencies where the majority of voters reject candidates, nominated by political parties or independent candidates. The present system forces voters to vote for candidates listed on the ballot paper and eliminates the overall opinion of the people.

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6. The ECP should work as an independent institution and it should not be under the influence of the government. The Election Commission should be constituted by the joint parliament and vetted by the Judicial Committee instead of the parliamentary committee. This system is being successfully practiced in Canada, Thailand, and Indonesia.

7. The Election Commission of Pakistan should be given an observer role in the intra-party elections under Political Parties Order 2002 Article 11 and 12.

8. The development funds at the disposal of members of parliament are grossly misused. Projects needed in the community are ignored simply on the pretext that the voters have not voted for the x, y, z candidate. Furthermore, 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 parliament members should be discontinued and all the funds should go to the local government and be spent on projects benefiting the masses rather than on the basis of political affiliation.

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9. The electronic voting machine system has become controversial in the USA and France. In India, high courts of three states declared this system as unreliable. The Assembly of State of Delhi has also declared that the electronic voting machine system can be tampered with. Therefore, the political parties and ECP should drop the idea of electronic voting machines as it will further complicate the system and will create more doubts and litigation.

10. It should not be mandatory for independent candidates who win to join a political party. Instead, they should be allowed to form independent groups in parliament.

11. If any political party wins less than 10% of the National or Provincial assembly seats, then all the seats of that party should be transferred to the majority party. This will ensure the eradication of blackmailing and pressure group tactics. This system is also being successfully practiced in Turkey.

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12. There should be separate returning officers for the National and Provincial assembly seats, which will reduce the workload on them for legal and administrative matters.

13. In each polling station, a polling assistant should be appointed only for election-day who will observe the execution of the election and closely scrutinize the attitude and behavior of political parties, polling agents, elections, and administrative staff. He/she should be a retired civil or military official or a community notable from the same constituency without an affiliation with any political party.

14. 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 and his/her attendance sheet should be submitted to ECP along with the election result of a given constituency after due verification by the concerned presiding officer.

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15. The consolidation of the results should be done under section 39 of the Representation of People Act 1976 and not rely on Form 14. 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.

16. Along with Form 16 [polling station wise result summary by the returning officer] and Form 17 [candidate wise result summary by the returning officer], the returning officer must submit Form 14 [summary of counting by the presiding officer] and Form 15 [ballot paper count by presiding officer]. By adopting this recommendation, the ECP will have a 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.

17. Form 14-16-17 should be uploaded on the ECP website as soon as these are received.

18. The returning officers in person should be held responsible for rigging. For this purpose, an amended version of Section 68 of the Representation of People Act 1975 should be adopted.

19. The ECP should be required to submit all collected records about the sources of party funds to the outgoing 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.

20. The qualification of any parliamentarian on Section 62 and 63 is an important parameter and it has been grossly ignored. The parliamentary ticket board of all the political parties should be held accountable for the issuance of party tickets to candidates.

In case any candidate is disqualified by the court on the basis of sections 62 and 63, then the ECP should also disqualify members of the party ticket board who had voted for him/her for at least 2 terms. This system is successfully practiced in both Bangladesh and Turkey.

Read more: Democracy in Pakistan: Preferring the Electable over the Deliverable?

The research and information that is available on electoral reforms is steadily evolving as a direct consequence of new situations and conflicts that keep arising within the different political parties while simultaneously engendering the widespread misuse and misinterpretation of election procedures and rules.

All the departments of the government such as the administration, judiciary, parliament, and media should aim to function in harmony for the welfare of the masses as well as the overall stability of the entire nation which can only happen if the necessary measures to strengthen the governance of the country are taken under each and every circumstance.

Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad is the former Secretary to the Election Commission of Pakistan and worked in the organization for over 30 years. He is currently the chairperson for the National Democratic Foundation. The foundation’s work is to grow and strengthen democracy in Pakistan. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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