Electoral reforms not for the masses

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NEWS & VIEWS
Mohammad Jamil
ON Wednesday, the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms approved Elections Bill 2017 to be tabled in the National Assembly soon. Chairing the meeting of the committee, Minister for Finance Muhammad Ishaq Dar said: “The bill has been finalised in consultation with stakeholders, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and mainstream political parties. The subcommittee of Electoral Reforms Committee held more than 90 meetings and reviewed all the legal and constitutional aspects of the Elections Bill 2017 in consultation with political parties, ECP and other relevant departments.” At the end of the meeting, Ishaq Dar informed the media that the committee had approved Elections Bill 2017 unanimously. But this is not true, as Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) have expressed reservations over the draft bill. Anyhow, it took three years to prepare the draft bill.
However, the cry for electoral reforms is not to empower commoners but to make electoral system more satisfying to oligarchs. None outside the political class or ruling elite should harbour the fancy idea, as it is not meant to promote the democracy project. In fact, it has nothing to do with the mass of the people. The whole of this sudden reformative interest is palpably motivated solely by the rabid political grouses of the oligarchs holding the nation’s entire politics in their avaricious grab and is aimed at strengthening up the electoral process in accordance with their mutually acceptable criterions and standards for their greater mutual satisfaction. Of course, political grandees are dressing up their interest in reforming the existing electoral system in the attires of democracy. Anyhow, efforts are being made to don the apparels of democracy which has nothing to do even remotely with it.
No Newton is needed to tell that elections contest in the country is the battle in which commoners, who make the backbone of a real democracy, only figure as bystanders and not real participants. Indeed, in this land the commoners cannot even think of getting into the electoral system. Not only because of the prohibitive costs involved, but also because a surging sea of the citizenry in this land still lives in the servitude and bondage even in these contemporary times of tremendous human emancipation and liberty. This powerless, voiceless and cattle-like dumb-driven citizenry lives in the thralldom of overbearing landed aristocrats and pirs, feudal lords and sardars, filthy rich robber barons and moneyed upstarts who have acquired land ownership as well. On paper this citizenry may be fully empowered and enfranchised but in reality it is not, and is wholly at the beck and call of their masters.
This is a stark pungent ground reality that citizenry votes its masters want it to vote, as its own will counts for nothing. But it gets no attention, no mention even in the prattle of the self-styled rights-watchdogs, puffed up intellectual luminaries, advocacy NGOs that are mostly foreign- funded and media lights parading themselves to be great champions of democracy. What electoral reforms could really be worth if this mass scale disenfranchisement is not put paid to and a surging impoverished, the downtrodden and the enslaved is not inducted effectively in the polls process? It is clearly the land reforms that can do the miracle of empowering the disempowered in a whole lot. But has anyone ever heard of voices talking about land reforms coming from political parties’ offices or media studios, or heard of seminars being held by the civil society groups in this regard?
In western democracies, there is element of meritocracy whereby those belonging to middle class can also reach higher echelons of power. Former prime minister of Britain John Major was son of a dancer/circus performer, and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had worked as a chemist in Central Institute of Physical Chemistry. Anyhow, democracy is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people, and exercised directly by them or by their elected representatives under a free electoral system. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people’ for the people’. However, he was candid when he said: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” Having that said, people in Pakistan are losing faith in the system, which does not address their problems.
In Pakistan, economic disparity, socio-economic injustice, political instability, internecine conflicts between politicians, rampant corruption, rising crime rate, target killings, energy crisis and ineffective criminal justice system, especially in lower courts, are the challenges facing the nation. These challenges need to be met through unity and harmony between the pillars of the state with their collective wisdom. They should at least adhere to the principles laid down by the architects of western democracy to care for the common man by providing jobs, health care and equal opportunities to all. They should help the people living in the gloom of stalking poverty, squalor, want and deprivation. However, they are neither in focus of the ruling elite nor by the anchorpersons, analysts and intellectuals who more often than not highlight the elites’ grouses rather than highlighting the grievances of the have-nots and the downtrodden. In fact, more and more people are being pushed below the poverty line, which does not bode well for democracy and the country.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.
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