The fast-approaching general elections in the country have enhanced the urgency of reforming electoral laws and it is the political parties who will have to take a lead on this front.
This was the consensus among politicians, journalists and other participants at the Citizens’ Discussion organised by the Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCEP) on Tuesday.
Titled “Road to Election”, the discussion raised several key questions emanating from a recent Supreme Court verdict on election campaign expenditure and regulations. The latter were implemented for the first time in the recent by-election for NA-151 Multan last month.
The participants were shown a short report titled “Cracking the Code”, which was a compilation of video-documented evidence of violations of election rules in the by-election. Supporters of leading candidates were shown holding automatic weapons and hosting party flags in and outside the polling booths. In one case, a ballot box was labeled with a candidate’s sticker. The candidates also supplied food to the polling staff.
The report pinpointed violations by the candidates, but underscored that no subsequent action was taken against any of them by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The general consensus after the discussion was that mainstream political parties must agree on minimum common agenda of electoral reforms. The participants believed that political parties were the prime actors in bringing about electoral reforms and that the issue cannot be understood and addressed through the court verdicts alone.
“No system in the world is perfect. Democratic forces should try to develop consensus in bits and pieces if they find it difficult to agree on a whole set of reforms,” observed Deputy Convener of the Muttahida Quami Movement, Dr Farooq Sattar.
He demanded the immediate formulation and passage of consequential electoral legislation on the basis of the 18th Amendment.
Dr Sattar noted “there were certain impractical things in the existing electoral code of conduct”. He said it was unrealistic to think the Election Commission could transport all voters to the polling booths.
Sattar also urged members of civil society to push for electoral and intraparty reforms and to get the heads of the political parties to understand and accept their recommendations.
Awami National Party MNA Bushra Gohar said it was fashionable to criticise the political parties, but generalising the conduct of parties should be avoided.
The ANP leader agreed the existing code of conduct needs to be thoroughly discussed and amended with consensus among the stakeholders.
Meanwhile, journalist Fahad Hussain opined that since political parties seem uninterested in reforming themselves, the Supreme Court had to intervene.
“Plutocracy has developed in Pakistan because political parties encouraged this trend. When parties cannot hold elections within their own ranks, how can we expect them to reform the political process?” he asked.
Columnist Aneeq Zafar suggested that electoral reforms should be an ongoing process.
Zafarullah Khan, executive director of CCEP, gave a detailed presentation to the participants on his observations on the NA-151 by-election.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2012.