Electoral reforms | By Rizwan Ghani


Electoral reforms

IN HIS letter to the Speaker National Assembly, PM is seeking electoral reforms in a given timeframe. However, PDM has rejected the offer.

Ideally, the opposition should come to Parliament to keep a check or else government and its allies are going to bring self-serving reforms before the next election.

Keeping in view the Senate and Daska by-election, there is little hope of seeing genuine reforms and next general election as transparent, fair and free.

In the letter, the use of secrecy of ballot was not “absolute” is self-serving. It cannot be used as the basis of open ballot. In its opinion, the Supreme Court did not change the Constitution.

If Parliament reviews Article 226, it will have to be fresh, free of the SC opinion. Otherwise, courts have the right to judicial review and cancel the legislation.

Parliament’s test is to preserve ballot secrecy so that ballot cast is of free will, without any fear or pressure.

First past the post system is used in our elections. The voters cast their vote for a candidate of their choice and the one with most votes wins. However, it works best for two-party system.

With three major parties, we have to adopt alternative voting in next election for credible results.

In Av, the voter writes 1,2,3 to show their order of preference for the candidates on the ballot paper.

The voter can rank as many candidates as they like. Av is not Proportional Representation where seats in Parliament should be in proportion to the votes cast.

At the grassroots, the Av will revive constituency politics. It will give candidates incentives to run public issue based campaigns so that they can win support of voters’ second favorite choice.

For example, there are 15 candidates and they take a position on police reforms. The candidate ranked number one by the voters will win.

Due to the rank order list, it will be easier to protect the ballot and to preserve the results. It will weaken control of party leader and the resultant push for open ballot.

On the national level, it will end politics of electables, safe seats and tribalism. The party leadership will not be able to impose parachuters because rank order ballot paper is used in Av. The culture of violence will end.

Due to the change in ballot paper, the incentive for misuse of state resources will minimize including police, bureaucracy and election system. The holding of transparent, fair and free election will become easier for the ECP.

There are lessons in the US and UK elections for electoral reforms and stronger democracy. In 2019 UK elections, it took 50,835 votes to elect a Labour MP, but only 38,264 to elect a Tory, 336,038 for a Liberal Democrat and a shocking 865,697 for a Green.

Tories are dispersed in rural areas and Labour votes are concentrated in urban areas, denying a national democratic result.

To have credible election results, it is necessary to have credible census, transparency in demarcation of constituencies and electoral rolls.

The party getting most votes does not necessarily win the most seats. In 2018 lower house elections, PTI won 13 more seats with 5.55% (2,955,243) less votes.

PTI has 149 seats with 31.82% popular votes as compared to both PML (N) and PPP. They have 136 seats with 37.38% popular vote. In America, Hillary won six million more votes but Trump won.

Biden has seven million more popular votes but Trump challenged the result. The use of Av paper ballot will strengthen transparency and credibility of the results.

To keep democracy accountable, five-year term merits to be returned to four with maximum two terms for any politicians. In the UK, one party has been in power for more than 10 years with adverse outcome. In the centre, there is mega corruption, nepotism and gagged institutions.

At the grassroots, public is left to face floods, street crimes, drugs, kettling, broken healthcare, education and social services (Corruption in UK, Sept 10, 2020, the Guardian). Sindh and rest of Pakistan are no different.

For democratic unity, the 18th Amendment has to be changed to end political balkanization and returning political parties national politics. The policy of countrywide posting should be reintroduced.

All government servants including police should be rotated every three years. The DC system should be restored with police and anti-corruption under it.

The retirement age for all government servants including judiciary should be returned to 60. There should be same salary for the same pay scale and no post retirement lucrative contracts to end election corruption.

The data is clear that electronic voting is not a secure option. In 2020, the US Congress passed SAFE Act to replace EVM with paper ballot as election security and safeguarding American democracy against digital threats.

The overseas Indians have to travel back to their constituency and show their passport to vote.

It should be same in Pakistan to preserve credibility of results in closely contested elections.

Therefore, our executive, judiciary, establishment, media, academia and public have to play their role to bring specific electoral reforms for having real democracy. It cannot be left to our rulers and their allies alone.

—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.