IT is a good sign for democracy in Pakistan that it has witnessed periodic general elections since 2008and recently held local government elections in all provinces. We have seen the smooth transfer of power from one elected government to another elected one. The transfer of power to the locally elected councils is still in the process. This rapid development in electoral landscape is a positive step for sustainable democratic process. It has also broadly impacted the size and scope of the mainstream political parties with their support base being restricted to their respectiveregions. What are the prevailing electoral systems and how have they impacted the growth of political parties in country. How they will shape future electoral politics of Pakistan?
Presently, in all democracies, a large number of different electoral systems are in usage. For the sake of simplicity and understanding electoral systems have been categorized into three broader families; plurality/majority systems, proportional systems and mixed systems. Further, they have been divided into nine sub-families. In Pakistan, for the elections to legislative assemblies, Parallel Electoral System-a combination of the First Past the Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representative system is in practice. The direct elections to the members of National and Provincial Assemblies is held under the FPTP system, while the reserved seats are filled through proportional representation (PR) based upon the percentage of popular vote received by the different political parties in the general elections.
According to the leading electoral scientists, the electoral systems are main political institutions which shape the future political life of the country and affect overall political system in the country. Basically electoral systems define the method and formulas of calculation, structures of ballot papers and the constituency magnitude. It translates the votes cast in a general election into seats won by a political party and a candidate. In the calculation and seat allocation process, theelectoral formulas like plurality /majority, proportional are used. Under each electoral system, the structure of ballot paper varies from each other, some structures allow the voter to vote for a candidate or a party; weather the voters make a single choice or express a series of preferences. While the district magnitude outlines that how many representatives to the legislature that districts elects. Electoral systems also have strong psychological effects on the minds of voters and their choice that ultimately affects the strength and size of the political parties. Under FPTP, only one candidate is elected from a single member constituency. The voter of minor parties are always faces with the dilemma if he/she desires to cast his or her vote against the candidate of strong political parties, they will waste their votes. As a result of these behavioural consequences such voters do not express their real choice rather vote for another candidate or party. This phenomenon has eroded the psychological attachment of voters with their parties.
The voters who are associated with PPP in Punjab or KP provinces have either failed to express their choice or voted for other parties in recently held local government elections and 2013 general election. Similarly, the voters of PML-N in the second largest province of Sindh are facing a similar dilemma. As a result, the mainstream political parties have rapidly become regionalized. The PPP has failed in capturing a space in the electoral politics of Punjab and KP provinces and at the same time, the PML-N has been restricted to the Punjab province alone. This influence of electoral system is more visible where political parties become unstructured or loose organization around a certain person rather having a solid structurewith clear identity. The prevailing electoral system has thus led to the regionalization of political parties. The parties concentrated in the region are not only ensuring their existence in the parliament but also playing a significant role in the coalition politics. Pakistan is not the only country in the region where FPTP has produced such consequences for electoralpolitics. However, in South Asia, FPTP has neither created two party systems nor affected the growth of minor political parties but produced multiparty coalitions. Based upon these findings, it is concluded that in future politics, the trends of coalition politics will get more space in the electoral politics and will shape the regional electoral alliances among different parties in the provinces.
In order to overcome impact of the rapid political changes, the political parties need to overhaul organizational structure and reorient strategy, policy goals and campaign outreach strategies with fast-changing times. In addition to that, parliamentary political parties are advised to enhance their insight of their caucus groups on the electoral systems so that they can share solid input based upon best global practices.
—The writer is an electoral analyst, based in Islamabad.