10202017Headline:

Voice of the electorate by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

In last few weeks I have been approached by many well-meaning intellectuals, commentators and decision makers asking one question, how can democratic system be improved to perform better and meet expectations of the people? Let me share three real life situations before trying to answer this question with my three cents input.

Situation 1: Newspapers reported that Chairman PTI Imran Khan held meeting with prominent members of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and welcomed them into the folds of PTI. In the press release Chairman PTI said that PPP members pursue an ideology and it is for this reason they have decided to join PTI. On the same day Ch. Sarwar PTI organizer for Punjab issued a statement, welcoming members of PPP that PTI wants to eradicate the corruption of PPP and PML N. In this real life situation are the symptoms because of which our democratic system is failing. If PTI and PPP are same in ideology then why are they two different parties? In this case they should merge and become one party to serve the nation better. And if they are two different parties ideologically then why Chairman of PTI did not consider the reaction people will have to the joining of PPP members. Ch. Sarwar blamed PPP as a corrupt party but accepted people from this corrupt party into PTI thereby providing them a new platform to continue with it.

Situation 2: co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari appointed Qaim Ali Shah as CM of Sindh despite reservation by party members that he did not deliver good governance during his first term. In this situation co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has no interest in whether people of Sindh get some relief or not. What matters to Mr. Zardari that his proxies control the government while Qaim Ali Shah remains the face of the party. No one knows what the party constitution says about choosing a leader of the parliament. PPP leadership does not fear any retaliation from the electorate as they believe their wadera candidates will be able to control them at the polling booth. This is another dilemma that our democratic system has not been able to resolve to justify its credibility and utility.

Situation 3: Chief of PML N Mian Nawaz Sharif appoint his brother Shahbaz Sharif and many other members of the family as Chief Minister and cabinet members. There is no voice raised about suitability and merit in the party. All that matters to seek an appointment is to be loyal to the N in PML N. It operates more like a family enterprise that runs the country as a business unit by maintaining tight control of budget investment priorities. There is no consideration to what are the social needs of the country in assigning budget priorities to facilitate reduction in poverty and improving lives of farmers and labor. This is the third dilemma faced by our democracy that it serves interest of top 10% rather than bottom 90%.

How can these anomalies in the democratic system be overcome? We cannot introduce reforms in the country until and unless laws are applied in letter and spirit without discrimination. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is the mandated regulator of functioning of political parties. ECP is empowered to monitor funding, membership and application of party constitution in the parties. But ECP has limited itself to organizing the Election Day and has not been able to regulate the political parties properly. To develop a creditable, honest and capable political culture in the country it is important that ECP has to apply the current regulations as outlined in Representation of Peoples Act 1976 and Election Rules of 2002. ECP should ensure that proper elections are conducted for party offices under its supervision. Party constitution is pursued by its elected leaders and party members should be able to file petitions if there are any violations. One reform that is need is that Party tickets should be awarded through a process which should be submitted by the parties to ECP before a general election. Party members should have the right to file petitions to Election tribunals in case tickets are awarded out of due process. Without democratizing our political parties we cannot expect this country to have true democracy.

The above three situations means that same political elite occupy the ballot paper from major parties. This means the choice for a voter is limited but even then he does his best to express his anger at non performing candidates. There are two types of voters. First is the voter who is provided the privacy to cast his vote without any coercion or influence. And the second that is influenced to cast his vote to a particular candidate by stamping it in his absence or coercion inside the polling both. In these two the term privacy is important which means that there should be no influence exerted inside a polling booth. If we can ensure privacy inside the polling both in most cases the voter will cast a vote based on his free will regardless how much influence is exerted outside the booth. To ensure a fair election we have to achieve three things i.e. ensure privacy to the voter to cast vote; reduce number of coerced votes; and proper counting of the vote cast.

There is a lot of hue and cry about rigging in last elections but were they true representation of peoples mandate. I think they are for many reasons. First, all political parties were engaged in irregularities so they nullified the effects to hurt or benefit any one party. Second, before election there was a general consensus that PTI will secure anywhere from 35 to 70 seats, PML N 90 to 100 and PPP 35-55. It was also expected that PTI will form government in KP because of their focus on drones and terrorism. PML N and PPP in Punjab and Sindh because of their strong hold in these provinces respectively. So there was no surprise to the nation and everyone moved on. It was for this reason the dharna also did not succeed in attracting large number of people to pressure government to resign.

To clean political parties from white collar criminals that engage in large scale corruption NAB is not the solution. White collar crime cell of FIA is the proper professional forum to apprehend and prosecute corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. The performance of NAB is a clear indication that it has not be able to live up to its task. Rather it has been used as a political instrument for arm twisting.

We have to improve the system for it to perform better. Breaking the system and introducing untested ideas will only hurt our progress.

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