Elections 2007: Making Them Meaningful

Posted on February 20, 2007
Filed Under >Aqil Sajjad, Law & Justice, Politics
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Guest Post by Aqil Sajjad

Pakistan has seen many elections in its checkered history and almost all were labeled rigged, unfair or engineered by one political party or another. For the upcoming elections, the opposition has already started voicing its fears of manipulation by the government, while the latter promises to conduct free and fair elections.

In addition to the controversy over rigging, several other structural flaws exist in our political system. These prevent elections from being a meaningful exercise for the genuine empowerment of the people. This article is an attempt to highlight some of the systemic issues – that have gone largely unnoticed thus far – and initiate a debate on possible solutions.

Hopefully we will take up the discussion, and the government, the election commission and the various political parties will either implement the following suggestions or provide sound arguments for not doing so.

1. The election commission shall be made independent. For this purpose, the PM and the leader of opposition shall nominate up to three names for the Chief Election Commissioner and other key offices of the election commission. A joint parliamentary committee comprising of 50% treasury and 50% opposition members (in proportion to their seats in the parliament) shall decide upon these nominations. Appointments for the Provincial election commissions shall be made in the same way by joint committees of the respective provincial assemblies.

2. The election commission shall comprise of 4 branches, namely the Voter Enrollment Wing, the Political Qualifications Wing, the Political Programs Wing, and the Elections Wing. Their functions shall be as follows:

  • The Voter Enrollment Wing shall prepare and maintain an up to date voters lists.
  • The Political Qualifications Wing shall investigate the declared assets and credentials of all aspirants for political office. The wing shall invite confidential observations from the public to determine whether candidates meet the eligibility criteria for contesting elections. It shall prepare a summary of its findings and forward it to a public jury for an open hearing. The jury shall qualify a person only if the declared assets are complete and accurate and there is no evidence of prior corruption or abuse of power on his part. The jury shall disqualify a candidate if adequate grounds for disqualification are found after giving him a chance to defend himself. All such hearings shall be open to the general public and the media for live coverage. The credentials of the candidates, their declared assets, the summaries prepared by the Political Qualifications Wing, and the full transcripts of the hearings shall become public documents and be made available on the internet. The qualification process shall start at least 6 months before the elections to allow adequate time. Only qualified people shall be allowed to contest the elections.
  • The Political Programs Wing shall collect the manifestos of all the contesting political parties and make them available to the media and various professional forums in the country. It shall also hold live debates on the manifestos as explained in point #6 below.
  • The Elections Wing shall administer the actual polling process.

3. In order to improve transparency and reduce the chances of manipulation of results, the counts at each polling station shall be announced on-site as the final and official results for that polling station. The final result declared at the center shall be a simple compilation of the figures announced at all the polling stations, and shall include a break-up of the votes received by each contestant at each polling station.

4. All political parties shall be required to submit their manifestoes to the political programs registration wing in Urdu, English and relevant regional languages at least 6 months before general elections in addition to making them available on their official party websites.

5. To help the voters decide whether the party programs are viable and not just rhetorical statements, the manifestoes shall include, as an integral part, adequate explanation of where the funds for all the promised projects and schemes shall come from.

6. The Political Programs Wing of the election commission shall hold live debates on the manifestos starting at least three months before the elections. Recordings and transcripts of the debates shall also be made available on the Internet. The debates shall be of the following three categories:

  • Debates on national manifestos: These shall cover the party programs for the federal government, and shall be transmitted live to the entire nation on national radio and TV with the recordings and transcripts made available online.
  • Debates on provincial manifestos: These shall be held separately and shall focus on the programs for provincial governments. These shall also be transmitted live to the whole nation on national radio and TV with the recordings and transcripts made available online.
  • Live debates for individual MNA or MPA seats: These shall be held on local radio and TV stations (with the recordings and transcripts also posted on the Internet) where candidates shall explain what legislative issues concern them and how they intend to address them in the legislative assembly. Each MNA and MPA candidate shall be required to participate in at least 5 such debates before the elections. Debates of the above two categories shall not count towards this requirement.

7. Each political party shall hold intra-party elections at least 6 months prior to general elections. The party leadership at all three tiers (federal, provincial and local) shall be elected through these elections. The central executive body of each party shall also be elected, and not appointed at the sole discretion of the party leader. To ensure transparency, these intra-party processes shall be completely open to the media and the general public.

8. Party tickets shall be awarded through a transparent and democratic process. The party candidate for every seat shall be elected by the party workers within the relevant constituency in an exercise of intra-party democracy. These elections shall be fully open to the media and the general public to ensure transparency.

9. It must be recognized that the role of MNAs and MPAs is legislation and not the running of local governments in their constituencies. For this reason, candidates for national and provincial assembly seats shall be discouraged from making election promises pertaining to matters that fall in the purview of local governments. Moreover, all political parties shall unanimously pass a constitutional amendment to ban the practice of allocating development funds to MNAs and MPAs for their constituencies, since such funds amount to an encroachment on the domain of local governments.

10. Election results for any seat where women’s turn-out is less than 25% of the total turn-out shall be annulled.

The above is neither an exhaustive list of the needed reforms nor a perfect proposal. However, the author hopes that the government, the opposition and the media would constructively debate these and similar ideas, in an attempt to devise a reasonable framework to help make our fractured democracy more participatory and meaningful for the masses.

Aqil Sajjad is pursuing a PhD in Physics. A version of this essay was published as an op-ed in The News (17 February, 2007).

17 responses to “Elections 2007: Making Them Meaningful”

  1. It is general question,who would be winning party in election 2007.

  2. UMAIR says:

    I agree with one of early comments that while these ideasare sensible they do nt get to the root of the problem but only deal with symptoms. But that itself may be a good start

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