Electoral Reforms: A National Interest By Muhammad Ali Alvi

IT was only in 2013 when a democratically elected Government completed its five years term.

However, it was not before a troublesome period of 66 years. Although a government completed its tenure in 2007 but according to critics and analysts, it is not considered a democratic period.

Now after all those years of distress and struggle one can say that the Democracy of Pakistan is on the right track and it has started to hold its reins.

From here the first focus should be on the free and fair electoral process so that a government with a public mandate can work for the betterment of people and start the nation-building process.

Despite the vision of the founding fathers, democracy could not prevail in Pakistan from the beginning and it was only in 1970 when the first general election were held in Pakistan 23 years after independence.

According to analysts, the 1970 election is the only free and fair elections in Pakistan till now.

This shows the poor condition of the electoral process in Pakistan. And, now the election rigging is performed in a systematic and organised way by political parties and rich elites.

It can consist of three phases; pre-poll rigging, poll-day rigging and post-poll rigging. The worst and most exploited form is poll-day rigging.

The traditional paper ballot system is exploited by ones with wealth and power. On the other hand, the majority of the population is illiterate and unable to cast a vote properly. Hence, scores of votes are rejected.

In the current paper ballot system, the validity of a vote is at the discretion of a presiding officer. However, this discretion can help or affect a candidate, hence creating a loophole in the process.

Not only illiterate people are affected by the current voting method but sometimes literate and skilful people face difficulty in casting their vote properly. The case study of Senate elections gives us a glimpse of the problem faced by the voters in a traditional paper ballot system.

For example, in both cases, rejected votes played a decisive role in defining the winning candidate.

Then how can one expect that illiterate and marginalised sections of society can vote properly? There were 35 constituencies in 2013 and 30 in the 2018 general election where the winning margin was less than the rejected votes.

Above all, after every election, the opposition blames the Government for election rigging. And, the whole emphasis of the government is on proving its credibility. It has been going on for years and it can only be ended with electoral reforms.

Electoral reforms, as a whole, is a lengthy process it includes but is not limited to the right of vote to Overseas Pakistani, use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), free and fair census and other aspects. But to start with, the change in the voting method by the use of EVMs can work well for Pakistan.

The experiment of EVMs has gone well with the other countries and it should be introduced in Pakistan as well. The use of EVMs can bring people’s faith back in the electoral process. It will also help in dealing with the problem of rejected votes.

If Pakistan is to transform into a truly democratic state it has to let every section of society participate. This can only happen with the introduction of reforms in the Electoral Process.

Instead of blaming each other, the Government and Opposition have to sit together for a greater cause for the stability of democracy in Pakistan.

Years after years have passed, several promises have been made but no solid action has been taken so far. However, the incumbent Government has promised of electoral reforms.

In their bid, they have presented the Election (Amendment) Act 2020 with 62 amendments in Election Act (2017) in the National Assembly which has been passed unilaterally and is now in the Senate for final approval.

But, the Election Commission of Pakistan has shown concerns over the proposed bill. The extent of concern shown by the ECP is grave as it is not in favour of 28 of 62 proposed amendments in the bill and has termed some clauses of the bill unconstitutional.

Here, it is important to mention that along with the Government and the Opposition, all sections of society must play their role in electoral reforms.

Only time will tell what will be the outcome of these efforts but for Pakistan, the use of technology in the voting process is the need of the hour.

One can hope that with peaceful democratic transitions and electoral reforms a truly democratic culture will prevail in Pakistan and the essence of true democracy will be seen in the future.

—The writer is a contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.

Published in pakobsever on 4th August 2021​

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