The majority myth
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.