Need for electoral reforms | By Malik M Ashraf


Need for electoral reforms

THE unfortunate reality of our politics is that the political parties which lose the elections refuse to accept their defeat, term the outcome a sequel to rigging and even resort to destabilize the elected government through agitation and illegitimate machinations.

Almost all the general elections except the one in 1970 met the same fate.

The losing parties form alliances with the sole purpose of pulling the government down which often has led to the derailment of the democratic process.

The dilemma is that none of the political parties ever gave a serious thought to knowing the real causes for this permeating phenomenon even when they were in power.

However it is encouraging to note that the PTI government in the backdrop of protest by PDM alleging that it had been formed as a result of the rigged elections and the recurrent controversies in regards to senate elections and by-elections for the National Assembly seats, including in NA-249 Karachi, has repeatedly sought cooperation from the opposition for electoral reforms to bury this controversy for-ever.

Nobody in his right mind can deny the fact that to ensure political stability and strengthening of democracy, electoral reforms which enjoy the consensus of all the political parties, is an indispensable imperative.

But the opposition parties are not forthcoming for engagement with the government and are adamant on sending the government packing.

The question is, are the mid-term polls or removal of the government the real magic wands that we need to get out of the crucible of precipice which we have landed into due to the cumulative effect of bad governance over the last seven decades? The answer unfortunately is in the negative.

We have seen repeated elections during nineties and even earlier that only led to the change of faces rather than any improvement in governance.

The reason being that since our independence the political system in the country has encouraged and promoted politics of graft and entitlement— an off-shoot of feudalism—— which is the mother of all the ills afflicting our body politic, including rampant corruption.

Therefore, the pre-mature change in the government and elections under the same decadent system will not change anything.

The country is fast moving towards the tipping point and people are losing their faith in democracy in its present form.

If the political parties and their leaders are really wedded to the cause of democracy and good governance in the country, which they cry hoarse from every convenient roof-top, then they will have to prove their credentials through their deeds.

It is unthinkable even for a moment —no matter how bad the things are— that our salvation and progress lies in any arrangement other than envisioned by the creator of Pakistan; a progressive democratic polity.

Now coming to the electoral reforms one has perforce to think what kind of reforms are required to be introduced? One thing is sure that the present system of electing our representatives is actually the root-cause of all our political dilemmas and failure to consolidate democracy.

No matter how many elections are held under the present system things are not going to change for the better.

The single constituency system perpetuates the hold of the landed aristocracy and urban elite on the political power; it breeds politics of graft and entitlement; it encourages power politics; it helps the non-democratic forces to manipulate election results; the electables who often sell their souls are used for political engineering and make and break of the government; the groups within the party black-mail the party leadership and zealously safeguard their vested interests and it also facilitates buying and selling loyalties during the senate elections.

In my considered view— morphed as a result of minute study of the ills of our system and the political systems of the world in the context of their relevance to their social and cultural values— the reform that we need to ensure free and fair elections and the formation of a truly representative government is to discard the single constituency system and switch over to the proportional representation.

It provides the best solution to undo the hold of feudal lords and elite classes on the political power which they use to advance their vested interests at the cost of welfare of the masses.

This system evolved in Europe during nineteen century, is prevalent in Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, Norway, Germany and a number of other countries with some variations suiting their own social milieus.

In this system the people vote for the parties and they get representation in the assemblies according to the percentage of votes polled.

The party then presents the list of the individuals it would like to represent the party in the parliament.

The party also has the power to withdraw the name of any member who fails to deliver or tries to defy the party line.

In this way no member or a group can blackmail the party leadership for their own political agendas. Above all it eliminates the phenomenon of political engineering by the powers that be.

The system also ensures representation of the smaller regional parties in the national politics and discourages fissiparous tendencies.

Another reform that needs to be introduced is that the voting in the elections should be made mandatory and modern technology used for polling votes.

This will enhance the stake of the people in the political affairs of the country and also help in gauging the real support of political entities among the masses.

In regards to senate, I think the seats can be distributed among the parties on the basis of the percentage of the votes polled by the party in the general elections rather than holding separate elections for the senate seats.

In that way it will also scuttle the chances of money-changing hands to buy loyalties of the legislators.

I think the opposition instead of battling for the down-fall of the government should cooperate with it in bringing the above suggested reform to promote the national good instead of pursuing their narrow political agendas. It is the collective responsibility of both of them.

— The writer is former Director General Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, based in Islamabad.