Mend­ing the elec­toral sys­tem

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Tariq Mah­mud

IN re­cent times, events on the po­lit­i­cal scene have brought the PTI in the spotlight, both in­side par­lia­ment and for hap­pen­ings within the party. While the move by the MQM and the JUI-F to un­seat the PTI's MNAs for their pro­longed ab­sence from par­lia­ment dan­gled on the party's head, rais­ing po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­tures to new heights, wran­gling within the PTI also sur­faced, with some se­nior stal­warts spilling beans in the media.

They ac­cused key of­fice-hold­ers, who en­joyed the con­fi­dence of the party chief, of act­ing like a qabza group and cor­rupt mafia. All these de­vel­op­ments an­noyed Im­ran Khan and he lashed out at those try­ing to un­seat the party, as well as the dis­si­dents within the PTI.

The wran­gling cam­paign within the party was, in­ci­den­tally, spear­headed by none other than its le­gal ea­gles, who were in­ex­pli­ca­bly kept out of the loop dur­ing the ju­di­cial com­mis­sion's (JC) pro­ceed­ings.

There are se­ri­ous ques­tions re­gard­ing the party's con­sul­ta­tive process as Hamid Khan has now openly ex­pressed se­ri­ous reser­va­tions about the man­ner in which the JC's pro­ceed­ings were han­dled by the PTI. His ar­gu­ments seem rea­son­able. Prob­ing or­gan­ised rig­ging that takes place on the ba­sis of a cen­tral plan through a ju­di­cial fiat was a non-starter from the word go.

These kinds of charges have po­lit­i­cal over­tones and re­quire a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion, like for in­stance, the late Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto agree­ing to hold re-elec­tions in 1977 in the wake of the bloody Pak­istan Na­tional Al­liance move­ment. His gov­ern­ment was, how­ever, top­pled by Gen­eral Zi­aul Haq be­fore the un­der­tak­ing about the re-elec­tions could ma­te­ri­alise.

De­spite be­ing the most con­tro­ver­sial elec­tions in our history and there be­ing recorded in­ci­dents of rig­ging at con­stituency level, there was no cen­tral plan for this since the ma­nip­u­la­tors did not need one, as they could meet their ob­jec­tives at the con­stituency level. I re­call a con­fes­sional state­ment by the then deputy com­mis­sioner of Ka­sur, who said that he was in­stru­men­tal in rig­ging the elec­tions, but de­nied the pres­ence of any cen­tral plan or a grand de­sign by the gov­ern­ment in this re­gard. The gen­tle­man, who was a se­nior of­fi­cer in the civil ser­vice, vol­un­tar­ily re­signed af­ter some time.

Ev­ery elec­tion in Pak­istan has been marred with con­tro­versy, but it is only the 1990 elec­tion for which there was doc­u­mented ev­i­dence of ma­nip­u­la­tion, when at the be­hest of Gen­eral (retd) Mirza As­lam Beg, Gen­eral (retd) Asad Dur­rani filled the cof­fers of IJI stal­warts with slush funds.

The only prac­ti­cal le­gal course to probe cor­rupt prac­tices in elec­tions is through in­di­vid­ual pe­ti­tions, as acts of omis­sions and com­mis­sions dur­ing the elec­toral process can­not be ag­gre­gated and ex­trap­o­lated to the macro level.

Our Con­sti­tu­tion clearly man­dates the fair­ness of elec­tions and un­equiv­o­cally guards against cor­rupt prac­tices. The JC's terms of ref­er­ence (ToR) fell short of the con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment of prob­ing into cor­rupt prac­tices, a fact also pointed out in its re­port. This crit­i­cal area was left out­side the scope of the TORs.

The cur­rent cri­sis the PTI is un­der­go­ing is a se­quel to the long­est ever dharna staged in the coun­try's history. Ac­cord­ing to its de­trac­tors, this re­sulted in lost for­eign in­vest­ment, brought the gov­ern­ment to a stand­still with calls of civil dis­obe­di­ence, whereas to the pro­tag­o­nists of the dharna, it catal­ysed the party cadres and re­sulted in po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion.

It has now, how­ever, emerged as a move that has to be crit­i­cally an­a­lysed from all an­gles. Great re­spon­si­bil­ity now rests on all po­lit­i­cal par­ties to get their act to­gether and move to­wards lay­ing the ba­sis for fair and trans­par­ent elec­tions. The ex­er­cise needs a cred­i­ble in­sti­tu­tional frame­work.

The par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on elec­toral re­forms is mulling over the sub- ject. Gleanings from the press re­veal that the com­mit­tee's main thrust so far has been on mod­ernising the pro­cesses, bring­ing in more trans­parency, and im­prov­ing time­lines by in­tro­duc­ing elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines. Such moves will cer­tainly rev­o­lu­tionise the sys­tem and save the coun­try from con­tro­ver­sies and other nag­ging is­sues. There is, how­ever, a need to launch a pi­lot pro­ject to test the re­sults of all changes that the com­mit­tee might pro­pose.

The sys­tem rec­om­mended by the com­mit­tee should only be made fully op­er­a­tional af­ter crit­i­cal feed­back.

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (ECP) had to bear the ma­jor brunt of the elec­toral con­tro­ver­sies. It had to face crit­i­cism for the fail­ures of the tem­po­rary staff drawn for elec­tion du­ties from dif­fer­ent fed­eral and pro­vin­cial de­part­ments.

This kind of as­sorted staff can never re­ally gel well to form a co­her­ent sys­tem that could per­form a mas­sive task of an ex­cep­tional na­ture. I have been ar­gu­ing for the rais­ing of a per­ma­nent elec­tion re­serve staff, its mem­bers hav­ing been iden­ti­fied at least a year prior to the gen­eral elec­tions. The ex­er­cise should look at the cre­den­tials, and ad­min­is­tra­tive and man­age­rial skills and abil­i­ties of the per­sons who would be tak­ing de­ci­sions un­der pres­sure.

This corps, once se­lected, should be im­parted in­ten­sive train­ing with re­gard to elec­toral man­age­ment through a phased pro­gramme. Staff se­lected should be well-in­cen­tivised.

It should get spe­cial pay and al­lowances dur­ing the train­ing and while on elec­tion duty, rather than be­ing given a daily al­lowance, which is usu­ally quite low. The train­ing pe­riod, spread over dif­fer­ent time slots, should be of at least an eight-week du­ra­tion in to­tal, with fol­low-up ses­sions con­sist­ing of sim­u­la­tion ex­er­cises.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.