The debate over electoral reforms in Pakistan has been on the scene over the past few years. There have been a number of issues in the electoral regime in Pakistan which have frequently highlighted the dire need for reforms.
Some of them have been in existence for the past few years stretching on from the structural issues in ECP, patron-based politics, and absence of intra-party democracy to the baradari and constituency-based politics among others, while the rest are the creation of the time like the installation of EVMs and the provision of I- voting among others. All the above-mentioned loopholes need to be mended.
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The annulling of the electoral reforms as per the direction of Elections Act 2017, in Pakistan unveils the procedure of the reforms starting from the preparation of the report in accordance with the result of the pilot project launched by the Election Commission of Pakistan which would be referred to the Parliament for further debate and final approval.
However, the past electoral reforms in Pakistan show the passive role of the parliament viz-a-viz the conduct of debate over the suggested reforms and their approval. Likewise, it has been the dormant role of the executive in the implementation of the reforms.
Issues with Pakistan’s electoral regime
The electoral arena in Pakistan has been struggling to cope with a plethora of challenges it has been facing over the past few decades. The Election Commission of Pakistan is a constitutional body operating its function under Article 218 of the constitution of Pakistan 1973. It has to conduct free and fair elections to the federal parliament, provincial Assembly, and local parliament.
While zooming in the structure of the said constitutional body, one may frankly find out a range of structural reforms in ECP. The ECP finds per se short of exercising its administrative authority completely during the election days which widens the gulf between the two departments.
It is to be mentioned here that the ECP appoints school teachers as poling officers ushering into a range of irregularities in elections. The polling officers are usually appointed politically and are, thus, vulnerable to the mounting influence of their benefactors- politicians. They would hardly be able to carry out their duties honestly as the same has been unveiled in The Governing Ungovernable by Ishrat Hussain.
Moreover, the school teachers are usually less trained polling officers resulting in the creation of hurdles that prevent the conduct of free and fair elections.
The democratic culture in Pakistan has not been pure and mature as there seem to be a plethora of loopholes one can easily and unequivocally locate in it. The political parties in Pakistan lack intra-party democracy which is deemed to be essential for meritocracy and leadership. The installation of intra-party democracy provides sincere leadership and spreads along the contour of meritocracy.
It will pave the way for the installation of mature and pure democratic culture in Pakistan resulting in a responsible and merit-based government. Similarly, it will largely reduce the malpractices in our political culture. Setting the national-based politics aside, constituency-based politics tarnish the real spirit of elections and the baradari nature of politics wherein one can vote for his baradari rather than talent, leadership, and honesty.
Currently, there has been a debate on the installation of Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs) under section 103 of the Elections Act 2017, in order to ensure free and fair elections. Pakistan has persistently been facing a complaint of rigging in its elections which it needs to address. Thus, the suggestion for the installation of EVMs came on the scene.
However, it is not a piece of cake as the EVMs require sufficient financial resources to be allocated for their installation which would not be less than a burden on the struggling economy of Pakistan.
Moreover, they need the personnel to be properly trained in using the EVMs which is again a daunting task. Similarly, the voters require to be trained on how to vote while using the EVMs. These are the issues in the ongoing reforms which need to be properly debated in Parliament as Bilal Ahmad Mehbob- Pildat Pakistan chairman- suggests.
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Similarly, the provision of the right to vote to overseas Pakistanis has been a debatable issue over the past few years in the electoral history of Pakistan. The Elections Act 2017 under its section 94 mentions the voting by overseas Pakistanis.
The overseas Pakistanis are suggested to use i- voting medium to vote in the elections, but it again faces a number of hurdles that curtail the way ahead of this reform. The OP or i-voting needs trained voters. The system will require proper protection from being manipulated. There seems to be the possibility of breaking down the i- voting system as was seen in the previous general elections.
What Pakistan needs to do
Pakistan needs to follow the legally prescribed way to bring the reforms into being. The ECP must complete its task of preparing the report of the suggested reforms and refer it to parliament for further debate and final nod.
The Parliament must act as a platform of consensus to pave way for mutually agreed reforms. The suggested reforms must properly be debated in time and must not be ignored and laid in abeyance as has been observed in the past. It would probably resolve the issues the EVMs and i- voting regimes are facing.
For the long term, the un-mature democratic culture must replace per se with a mature and pure democratic regime in Pakistan. Likewise, strong reforms must be implanted in the political culture of Pakistan in order to change it into a credible and national-based political culture. Only then Pakistan would be in a better position to reap the fruit of pure democracy.
The writer has done his Masters of Arts in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org