Mending the electoral system
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.