Electoral reforms inevitable By Malik Muhammad Ashraf

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Abraham Lincoln described democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. In the modern era democracy is acknowledged as the best form of representative governance as majority of the countries of the world have a democratic dispensation, though they have different modes of electing the members of the legislatures. In some countries the elections are held on a single constituency basis and the party securing more seats than its opponents forms the government. Others have a proportional representation system in which people vote for the parties instead of individual candidates and each contesting party gets seats in the parliament according to the percentage of votes obtained by it.

Pakistan has a single constituency system for electing representatives of the people. However the unfortunate reality of our politics is that except for 1970 general elections, the losing parties in the successive elections have invariably refused to accept the results accusing the winning party of having rigged the elections which has in some cases led to political instability in the country and even the promulgation of martial law. Similarly elections for senate also have been questioned in regards to their legitimacy and transparency with echoes of use of money to win the senate seat. It is an irrefutable reality. I am personally witness to money changing hands in the senate elections during my posting in Balochistan.

The regrettable thing is that all those parties who have been crying hoarse about rigging in elections and involvement of money to secure senate seats, never ever made any serious effort to reform the electoral system when in power or invited the opposition to sit together for introducing electoral reforms which ensure transparency in the elections and all the parties accept the results without any grudge.

As regards the elimination of corruption in the bureaucracy and at higher echelons of the government, the discretionary powers at all levels should be abolished

There are no two opinions about the fact that electoral reforms which provide a transparent voting mechanism as well as eliminate the chances of corruption in the senate elections to are inevitable to ensure political stability and orchestrating socio-economic development of the country.

It is, therefore, encouraging to note that Prime Minister Imran Khan while interacting with media came up with the suggestion to elect the senate members by show of hands in the provincial assemblies instead of secret ballot to eliminate corruption. As it would require amendment in the constitution with two-third majority he invited the opposition parties to be part of the effort.

He also revealed that the government was contemplating the introduction of electronic voting system for which talks were underway with the elections commission. He further revealed that 9 million overseas Pakistanis would also be made part of the electoral system. It is a very positive initiative which needs to be responded by the opposition parties with the same spirit if they are really interested in consolidating democracy in the country.

Having said that it is my considered view that we need more than merely reforming the system for senate elections and introduction of the electoral voting. The real fault lies with the single constituency system. It perpetuates hold of the feudal lords on political power. Under the single constituency system each candidate for the National or provincial assemblies has perforce to spend 60-70 million rupees on his election campaign. This reality eliminates the chances of any man belong to the middle or lower middle class ever contemplating to contest these elections. Those who spend such a huge sum of money on their elections are always on the look out to make fortunes by extracting favours from the government. The best way to break the hold of the feudal lords on the political power in this country and eliminating the role of money in the elections is to adopt the system of proportional representation for electing our parliamentarians. The advantage of this system is that it reflects the real support for the political parties among the masses and also ensures the presence of smaller and regional parties in the parliament making the legislature a truly representative body. The party leaders are spared of the black-mail of the electables and they can nominate really competent and educated people from different walks of national life to represent the party in the parliament. The system also eliminates the possibility of horse-trading and floor-crossing for personal gains besides scuttling the ability of the alleged string-pullers to use these electables in the make and break of the governments. To make this system really workable voting will also have to be made compulsory so that every registered voter can exercise his right of franchise.

Further the possibilities of unnecessary wrangling between the political parties on matters like the date of elections and the formation of care taker set-up must also be removed permanently. Like in US the parties must agree on one date on which the election will be held after every five years and the matter should no more be the prerogative of the sitting government to decide.

Similarly the formation of the care taker set up should also be decided once and for all so that the parties can focus more on their programmes rather than wasting their energies on non-substantive issues. Judiciary is the most respectable and trusted institution of the country and it would be advisable for the parties to agree on the point that the latest retired and living judge of the Supreme would head the care taker set up and he would be free to choose his team to hold free and fair elections and also run the affairs of the government till the new elected government assumes charge.

As regards the elimination of corruption in the bureaucracy and at higher echelons of the government, the discretionary powers at all levels should be abolished. That will help to a great extent in tackling the menace of corruption. All these changes should be effected through amendments in the constitution as it would be in the interest of all the parties themselves as well as in the larger interest of the country. The political parties have shown commitment to the national causes by unanimously carrying out Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Amendment in the constitution and also giving their blessings to the adoption of the 7 th NFC Award. They must show the same zeal and dedication in changing the system on the foregoing lines to put the country on the course envisioned by the Quaid. The opportunity created by the Prime Minister must be availed to rid the country of the perennial cause of political instability. He seems convinced of changing the system and open to any suggestion or proposal which could achieve the desired objective.