With the next general election on the horizon, the Election Commission of Pakistan has decided to conduct a good-housekeeping exercise — and not before time. The recently enacted election law has imposed a set of new conditions for the registration of political parties, which is going to be bad news for those parties that exist on paper only. The ECP has delivered notices to all of the 352 parties registered with it and ordered that they meet its requirements by December 2nd or find themselves denotified. The parties are required to deposit a fee of Rs200,000 and a list of 2,000 members and copies of their CNICs as well as their signatures and thumb-prints. Those parties that enlisted before the new legislation have 60 days to meet the requirements, and if they fail to do that will be de-listed having been given ‘reasonable time’ to explain themselves.
Political parties have grown like mushrooms in the autumn. Prior to the new law any small group of like-minded individuals could say that they constituted a political party. All they needed to do was create a constitution and manifesto and details of how intra-party elections were to be conducted and they were off and sailing, registration a mere formality. Some parties were created to make mischief, others as an expression of vanity and the new broom being wielded by the ECP is going to sweep away many of these paper entities.
For the most part this is to be welcomed, the caveat being that it is not for the ECP to limit the widening of democratic process and opportunity. Some of these new-ish parties may be part of government in the future though the likelihood is that most will not. The ECP is also mindful of the fact that some sectarian outfits have entered the political mainstream essentially via loopholes in the previous system; and some groups that promote inter-provincial and ethnic disharmony likewise. There will doubtless be howls of outrage from some quarters but a rationalisation was essential. It is now for the paper parties to prove themselves — or otherwise — and if found wanting to be struck, rightly, from the register.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2017.