Pakistan’s political parties apparently have nothing to say about the reforms to the country’s electoral system currently being undertaken by the Election Commission of Pakistan, with many refusing to participate entirely in a consultation organised on Tuesday by the commission and only three sending senior party leaders.
The election commission spent Rs10 million in inviting the key office bearers of the 15 largest political parties in the country and advertising in newspapers to ensure participation from the remainder of the 160 or so registered parties. But only two sent high-level representation and none except the Jamaat-e-Islami had any proposals to offer, despite the fact that the commission had explicitly asked for suggestions for improvement.
The lack of interest is particularly shocking since 2011 is also a census year, meaning that many of the boundaries of the constituencies may be changed. Tuesday’s meeting was meant to discuss the election commission’s progress in constituency demarcations and voter registration.
Officials at the election commission seemed highly disappointed at the turnout.
“Before publishing special supplements in the newspapers for this meeting, we had extended invitations by post. To ensure delivery we faxed these invitations and also delivered them at their residences and offices through special dispatchers,” said one official.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the Balochistan National Party (BNP) and the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) were among the political groups that did not attend the meeting at all.
The Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q), which fears electoral wipeout in the Senate elections in March 2012, was represented by its leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, among other senior leaders. The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) was also represented by relatively senior leaders such as Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Anjum Aqeel Khan, Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, Anusha Rehman and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. All of the other political parties, including the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, sent representatives who do not constitute their party’s leadership and fairly low down their hierarchy.
The commission had organised similar consultations in the past which were also poorly attended. The election commission has been keen to get input from political parties given the scale of the changes that it is proposing to the electoral system, including reforms in campaign finance laws as well as the introduction of electronic voting machines.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2011.