In a country like Pakistan, which has been plagued with military and civilian dictatorships, there is an urgent need to tackle the issue of electoral reforms if one is serious about implementing real democracy.
My first serious intervention on electoral reforms was in December 2009, with assistance from the Free and Fair Electoral Network, when parliamentary caucus was created. The purpose was to develop consensus and submit a private member bill across party lines in the National Assembly. We succeeded in this endeavour and, along with MNAs Syed Zafar Ali Shah, Humair Hayat Khan Rokhri, Farhat Mohammad Khan representing the PPP, the PML-N and the MQM respectively, we submitted a constitutional reform bill for electoral reforms in April 2010. The objective was to launch the first phase in order to propose necessary amendments in the constitution.
However, to date, the bill has not been tabled in the National Assembly’s relevant standing committee for discussion. It is only through the media that I am aware of a government bill on the same issue, which has been approved by the cabinet and will be presented to the assembly soon. Such hijacking of private member bills by the government is a violation of parliamentary norms, but common practice in Pakistan.
The second phase — which had been planned, signed and sealed for political party discussion by the caucus last year — was a review of all electoral laws. The purpose of this effort was to achieve the following: increase transparency and accountability among political parties and candidates; fortify the independence of the Election Commission; regularise access for election observers; and reform rules for representation.
The end goal was to prepare a second private member bill for all the amendments within all other electoral laws. This has yet to be achieved.
As a first prong of this grand effort, we will be inviting all parliamentarians to examine the sticky political issue of the inequality of suffrage. Universal suffrage — the right to vote for anyone who is past the legal age of voting — is a phenomena which is taken for granted. It is the law, but in practice we see that women are not allowed this right in some parts of Pakistan. A tighter legal framework needs to be established to achieve better women ratios at polling booths.
Secondly, it is important that universal suffrage entails that every representative is elected to represent a roughly equal number of people in his constituency. Here, there are massive discrepancies of data. The mean average currently is 297,467 voters per constituency in a total of 272 constituencies, whilst the standard deviation is 74,477, or 25 per cent, from the average, which is very high. This is internationally unacceptable and in violation of the principles articulated in our own 1974 Delimitation Act. There is also the issue of the delayed national census, a political hot cake which we are tackling.
Needless to say, the electoral reform process has attracted a lot of attention from western governments. However, it is important to approach this reform with self-motivating vigour. It is clear that reformed election laws should lead to reformed electoral law implementation, which will eventually lead to a more democratic Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ