Despite numerous proposals and demands for electoral reforms, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been working overtime to keep its processes and methodologies at the same archaic level as the ones that existed long ago.
Parliament is just as guilty for its reluctance to empower the commission and its focus on only paying lip service to the subject of electoral reforms. This complicity was best exhibited when parliament in 2017 removed the requirement for those contesting elections to declare financial, criminal, educational and personal information. The ECP’s refusal to change has critically impacted development and progress in Pakistan. Its obsolete electoral processes ensure that the same coterie of dynastic, rich, feudal and powerful families are recycled – often taking turns in the power corridors for three or four generations.
While electronic and biometric voting machines have already become a norm in many countries for more than a decade, the ECP still insists on using thousands of wooden boxes, millions of ballot papers (read: trees and forests), messy unverifiable thumb impressions, and manual means to count votes. These processes are vulnerable to errors, such as multiple voting, voting on another person’s CNIC, and even voting on behalf of those who are dead. This challenges can be easily eliminated by using NADRA-linked biometric gadgets, which are now in use at thousands of outlets in Pakistan.
Although the Supreme Court has given a ruling that makes it compulsory for all candidates to declare their personal data, the ECP has made no arrangements to place this data on its website. By doing so, the electoral body has denied voters the right to information about those they are voting for and has also violated Article 19A of the constitution.
The ECP has failed to provide the None of the Above (NOTA) option to voters in Pakistan – just as it has decided to remain clueless on how to enable overseas Pakistanis to vote. The electoral body is not just ignorant but is also averse to any idea that involves reforms or the use of modern technology.
Pakistan is the only country where a candidate can contest elections on unlimited seats and make taxpayers pay for expenses incurred in holding subsequent by-elections. Why have lawmakers and the ECP turned a blind eye to this scam?
The responsibility of raising objections over the information declared by a candidate has been traditionally passed on to rival candidates. This is incorrect and uncivilised. The faults and inaccuracies in a candidate’s declarations ought to be determined by the commission through its own reliable and official circuits. We have had scores of parliamentarians ride through their full parliamentary term with fake degrees, dual nationalities, criminal records, and financial irregularities. Should the chief election commissioner not be held accountable and made to pay for all those criminals who sauntered through its porous net?
As seen from the 2018 nominations, almost all reserved seats for women have been allocated to close relatives or friends of the senior leaders of each party. As a result, the reserved seats tend to further reinforce the concentration of power within a small coterie of ruling families instead of empowering ordinary women.
An estimated six to eight million people in Pakistan have been disenfranchised because they can only vote from the city of their permanent home address and not from the city they currently reside in. A half-hearted 21-day exercise of setting up 25,000 display centres was conducted in 2016 to correct errors of this nature. A sample survey in Karachi revealed that almost half of the display centres mentioned on the electoral body’s website didn’t actually exist. Around 90 percent of people in another randomly selected sample had no clue about the ECP’s display centre initiative.
The commission’s inability to devise efficient ways for a voter to correct his/her voting address (without visiting its bureaucratic offices) has taken away the right to vote from an estimated six to eight million voters. True democracy, as envisaged by the ancient Athenians, involves proportionate representation for every political party and segment of society. Instead of being eternally populated by the same rich and influential families who represent one percent of society, parliament ought to have women, labourers, professionals, minorities and farmers in the same ratio as their actual numbers.
Central to democracy and a healthy political system, the ECP has neither the vision nor the capacity to undertake any reforms on its own. Our only hope may lie in a citizen-led movement to reconstruct the institution that is the biggest facilitator of dynastic rule in Pakistan.
The writer is a management systemsconsultant and a freelance writer on social issues.