The ma­jor­ity myth

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Mud­das­sir Rizvi

UN­DER Ar­ti­cle 91 (4) of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the prime min­is­ter is elected by the votes of the ma­jor­ity of the to­tal mem­ber­ship of the Na­tional As­sem­bly. Does this ar­ti­cle en­sure the premier also en­joys the sup­port of the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in the coun­try? The an­swer is in the neg­a­tive.

Since 1988, none of the seven gen­eral elec­tions yielded a govern­ment that en­joyed the sup­port of even one­fifth of the to­tal reg­is­tered vot­ers. More in­ter­est­ingly, Nawaz Sharif is head­ing the most pop­u­lar govern­ment with his party hav­ing polled 17.17pc of reg­is­tered votes (31.5pc of the to­tal polled votes) in 2013. This is only af­ter PPP which polled 18.16pc of the to­tal reg­is­tered votes in 1970. Awami League polled 39.2pc, but the rest is his­tory. In 1977, PPP polled 36.29pc of the to­tal reg­is­tered votes, but PNA's mass ag­i­ta­tion over al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging led to the im­po­si­tion of mar­tial law.

A deeper anal­y­sis of elec­tion sta­tis­tics for 2013 un­folds many dis­turb­ing facts. De­spite be­ing the most pop­u­lar govern­ment, PML-N polled only 7.57pc of the reg­is­tered votes in KP, 2.34pc in Sindh, 2.24pc in Balochis­tan, 23.38pc in Is­lam­abad and 2.16pc in Fata. In Pun­jab where it took 117 of a to­tal of 148 Na­tional As­sem­bly seats, PML-N polled only 26.72pc of the to­tal reg­is­tered votes. The rul­ing party's neg­li­gi­ble pres­ence in the fed­er­at­ing units raises ques­tions about the ef­fi­cacy of the ex­ist­ing elec­toral sys­tem.

The ex­am­ples of mi­nor­ity rules, how­ever, are starker in the past. PPP formed the govern­ment with only 16.31 of the reg­is­tered votes in 1988, IJI with 16.74pc in 1990, PPP (PDA) in 1993 with 14.11pc, PML-N in 1997 with 16.16pc, PML in 2002 with 10.43pc and PPP in 2008 with 13.34pc. In the case of each govern­ment, if votes polled by coali­tion par­ties are fac­tored in, the suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments would still rep­re­sent a mi­nor­ity of the adult pop­u­la­tion in­stead of a sim­ple ma­jor­ity.

The mi­nor­ity rule is fur­ther strength­ened by the al­lo­ca­tion of re­served seats for women and mi­nori­ties on the ba­sis of the num­ber of seats won by a party in­stead of the votes polled. The pro­vi­sion of in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates con­test­ing elec­tions and join­ing any party also caters to pro­vid­ing sta­bil­ity to a mi­nor­ity govern­ment.

Should a party that en­joys the sup- port of 17.17pc of adult Pak­ista­nis be al­lowed to de­cide for 83.83pc? There can be no sim­ple an­swers. Pro­po­nents may ar­gue that democ­racy in its em­pir­i­cal form has to work with peo­ple who par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions and whichever party has ma­jor­ity gets to form the govern­ment. Op­po­nents may ar­gue that this form of democ­racy is nei­ther rep­re­sen­ta­tive nor demo­cratic.

De­spite the his­tor­i­cal ar­gu­ment in favour or against, there is a need for tan­gi­ble re­forms to en­sure a more pro­por­tional trans­la­tion of votes into seats. For ex­am­ple, there is this mis­con­cep­tion that PPP has been wiped out in Pun­jab where it polled more than 2.8 mil­lion votes in 2013. But its votes trans­lated into only two Na­tional As­sem­bly seats, av­er­ag­ing more than 1.4 mil­lion per seat. Sim­i­larly, PTI polled 5,080,034 in Pun­jab but got only eight seats - av­er­ag­ing 635,004 per seat. In con­trast, the PML-N polled 13,164,050 votes and got 117 seats at an av­er­age of only 117,418 per seat.

Par­ties have sup­port but do not have seats in pro­por­tion to their votes. This is the most crit­i­cal weak­ness of the first- past- the- post sys­tem in Pak­istan. It is based on the win­ner­takes-all prin­ci­ple ie the can­di­date re­ceiv­ing more votes wins the seat, al­low­ing wastage of a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of polled votes. In 2013, 51.8pc of polled votes did not trans­late into any seat. More sim­ply, 24,291,833 peo­ple voted but their votes did not win them any rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

This is not an ar­gu­ment to un­der­mine the le­git­i­macy of the govern­ment but to make a case for im­prov­ing the elec­toral sys­tem in a way that rep­re­sen­ta­tion can be en­hanced. There can be mul­ti­ple ways to ad­dress the is­sue. A straight­for­ward way is to make vot­ing com­pul­sory. The win­ner in a con­stituency must poll more than 50pc of the reg­is­tered votes or else there would re­runs be­tween the two top vote-getters.

The pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) sys­tem may also be con­sid­ered. While there are many com­plex vari­a­tions of this sys­tem, the sim­plest is the List PR sys­tem, which is also the most widely prac­tised around the world. Un­der this sys­tem, political par­ties present a list of can­di­dates to the elec­torate in each multi-mem­ber district. Vot­ers vote for a party, which gets seats in pro­por­tion to its share in the over­all votes polled in the district. Win­ing can­di­dates are taken in or­der of their po­si­tion on the PR list for the district.

If the PR sys­tem is em­ployed on the re­sult of the 2013 elec­tions and provinces are con­sid­ered a sin­gle district with the ex­ist­ing 272 gen­eral, 60 women re­served and 10 mi­nor­ity re­served, the PML-N would have 131 Na­tional As­sem­bly seats in­clud­ing 105 gen­eral, 22 women and four mi­nor­ity re­served; PTI 69 seats in­clud­ing 55 gen­eral, 12 women and two mi­nor­ity re­served; PPPP 62 seats in­clud­ing 49 gen­eral, 11 women and two mi­nor­ity re­served; MQM 22 seats in­clud­ing 17 gen­eral, four women and one mi­nor­ity re­served; JUI-F 15 seats in­clud­ing 11 gen­eral, three women and one mi­nor­ity re­served; PML 12 seats in­clud­ing 10 gen­eral and two women re­served; PML-F 10 seats in­clud­ing eight gen­eral and two women re­served; JI eight seats in­clud­ing seven gen­eral and one women re­served; ANP four seats in­clud­ing three gen­eral and one women re­served; PkMAP three seats in­clud­ing two gen­eral and one women re­served; and QWP, NPP, AJIP, AMLP, BNP and PML-Z one gen­eral seat each. This clearly es­tab­lishes that the ac­tual pub­lic sup­port of political par­ties is greater than what gets through FPTP.

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