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GVS Analysis |

On Wednesday, sub-committee of the Parliamentary Panel on Electoral Reforms approved an extension in maximum term limit from 4 years to 6 years. This move has further put to risk the already fragile structure of democracy in Pakistan.

Minister of Law and Justice Zahid Hamid headed the meeting of the sub-committee and said in regards to this decision “All the political parties demanded that there should be six year time period instead of four years for holding intra-party elections”

“Earlier the parties were bound to hold intra-party elections once in every four years… there has been a feeling that this time period was very short,” he stated, explaining the subcommittee’s reasoning.

Law Minister Zaid Hamid’s statements have made it apparent that the decision to extend the time period between mandatory intra-party elections was taken on the basis of popular demand.

This decision has been taken with reference to the Political Parties Order 2002, Section 11(1) of which states “The party leader and other office-bearers of every political party … shall be elected periodically in accordance with party’s constitution through secret ballot based on a democratic and transparent system: Provided that a period, not exceeding four years, shall intervene between any two elections.”

This law is proposed to be amended according to the committee’s decision of a 2-year extension between mandatory intra-party elections.

Read More: PTI rendered “bat less” by ECP; Will it now oblige system…

In addition to this, the committee has also approved an increase from 12.5 to 25 percent on the minimum requirement of total votes to avoid confiscation of nomination fees. Previously, if a candidate failed to secure 12.5 percent of all votes polled he/she would lose the fee deposited at the time of nomination. Now the percentage of votes required to claim the security deposit has been increased to 25.

These measures will be incorporated in the proposed Election Act 2017 which is expected to be finalized next week.

Law Minister Zaid Hamid’s statements have made it apparent that the decision to extend the time period between mandatory intra-party elections was taken on the basis of popular demand. Larger questions of democratic norms and fairness seem not to have been taken into consideration.

Background of intra-party elections in Pakistan

Historically, political parties of Pakistan have not operated like fair democratic institutions rather, their organizational structure resembles closely to that of a private limited company.

However, intra-party elections in Pakistan are a peculiar phenomenon. Mainstream parties PML-N and PPP treat intra-party elections as a mere formality.

Political parties have traditionally been propped up on the basis of a personality cult and controlled by a powerful family. Hierarchy is not established through a diplomatic process, instead, the big fish cherry picks individuals on the basis of loyalty, tribal background, and financial resources.

To enforce abidance of democratic principles in the functioning of the political machinery, the Musharraf government made into law the Political Parties Order in 2002.

The law provides categorical rules regarding the operation, conduct, and organization of a democratic political party.

Read More: ECP rejects disqualification references against Imran Khan & Jehangir Tareen

In addition to making compulsory intra-party elections, the law required political parties to have a constitution in place, a copy of which needs to be submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). It also puts in place regulations regarding the financing of parties.

However, intra-party elections in Pakistan are a peculiar phenomenon. Mainstream parties like PML-N, PML-Q, PPP, JUI-F, MQM, and PkMAP treat intra-party elections as a mere formality. There is no campaigning by workers of the party and no debates between prospective candidates. It is by no means a drawn out, exhaustive process, instead, most of the times it is a one-day event where prominent members of the party gather and reiterate their allegiance to their leader.

The Sharifs, Bhuttos, Chaudhrys and Zardaris have traditionally exercised an iron grip over their personal fiefdoms.

PTI’s disastrous attempt 

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf was the first party in recent memory which attempted to carry out a transparent internal election, however, this ‘noble endeavor’ morphed into a debacle.

In 2013, shortly before the general elections, PTI staged its intra-party elections and ran an extensive marketing campaign showcasing average middle-class members who had gained office exclusively through the vote. They also challenged other mainstream parties to uphold the standards of transparency as it had done.

“As per party constitution, the chairman cannot nominate individuals to positions in the party. Chairman Imran Khan was in gross violation of the party constitution when he appointed Jahangir Tareen as secretary-general.”

But after the general elections, in a jaw-dropping move, PTI’s central executive committee (CEC) relieved members who had been elected to government office of party responsibilities. The CEC proceeded to relinquish its right to nominate candidates for the vacant positions and handed over the power to PTI chairman Imran Khan.

Key dissenting voice in PTI, Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, a former member of the Chairman Advisory Committee, shed light on this issue while speaking to GVS:

“As per party constitution, the chairman cannot nominate individuals to positions in the party. Chairman Imran Khan was in gross violation of the party constitution when he appointed Jahangir Tareen as secretary-general.”

This controversial move caused a deep rift within the party. Pervez Khattak, Chief Minister of KP, was relieved of his post as secretary-general and in his place, Jahangir Tareen was appointed. This drew much criticism from members because the majority of the leadership positions in the party were now held by influential figures belonging to southern Punjab, Imran Khan’s own constituency.

A tribunal was formed under Justice (retd.) Wajeehuddin Ahmed to investigate alleged irregularities but it was dissolved just three days after it had summoned Imran Khan for questioning. High drama ensued after the tribunal kept on issuing directives and recommendation despite its dissolution. The situation died down eventually.

The ECP has given PTI much grief over failing to conduct intra-party elections on time. In the recent by-elections in Chakwal, the ECP barred PTI from using the bat symbol because it had passed the deadline of 23rd March. However, PTI was successful in securing relief from the Lahore High Court and participated in the election. 

The upcoming June 11th intra-party elections are expected to lack PTI’s previous broad-based aspirations. In a recent meeting of the CEC where, reportedly, the majority of members were absent and many non-members had been brought in to replace them, the party leadership amended the constitution to make it “simpler,” and in the process, violated the very regulations enshrined within it.

PTI’s case stands as a specimen of the decay inflicting democratic principles of the collective political psyche in Pakistan. No wonder they have kept mum on the subcommittee’s proposal.

Read More: What we need to do to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections…

Business as usual

The political strata may adopt the guise of democracy but it is evident that those with influence have carved out their own personal kingdoms and will not tolerate anything which undermines their control.

Hence, the measures proposed by the sub-committee of the Parliamentary Panel on Electoral Reforms are of far greater consequence than what silence from all quarters of the political arena indicates.

Allowing ‘elected’ officials to retain their positions for 6 years will make it possible for them to participate in two consecutive general elections. This undermines the essence of democracy and those tasked with upholding its sanctity are actively involved in efforts to compromise it. The common man is none the wiser.

Unfortunately, between Panamagate JIT’s investigations, the ongoing case between India and Pakistan at the ICJ, and the government’s crackdown on social media activists this issue seems destined to be lost in the quagmire of the current national drama.

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