The Pol­i­tics of Elec­toral Re­forms in Pak­istan: Be­tween Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Po­lit­i­cal Dis­course

The Diplomatic Insight - - Con­tents - Sa­maira Khan

Pak­istan has a unique elec­toral land­scape that com­prises of a great range of so­cial and lin­guis­tic groups, and to­gether they in­ter­weave a com­plex het­ero­ge­neous so­ci­ety in terms of elec­toral par­tic­i­pa­tion. Elec­toral sys­tem is a crit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion for ef­fec­tive demo­cratic or­ga­ni­za­tion. The choice of elec­toral sys­tem de­ter­mines the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of a demo­cratic sys­tem in There is ex­ceed­ingly vast aca­demic of elec­toral sys­tems which pro­vide in­dices and mea­sures for cal­cu­lat­ing ef­fec­tive pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion for cit­i­zens in a demo­cratic sys­tem. How­ever, the lit­er­a­ture in com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics does not have a sin­gle em­pir­i­cal study based on ex­pe­ri­ences from Pak­istan. The ex­ist­ing lit­er­a­ture on elec­toral stud­ies in Pak­istan fo­cuses on the elec­torate be­hav­iour, mi­cro-macro link­ages, and the main point of de­par­ture in un­der­stand­ing the elec­toral out­comes is fo­cused around the re­la­tion­ship be­tween so­cial cleav­ages based on class and reli­gion, and their as­sim­i­la­tion into party sys­tem; and how this re­la­tion­ship so­ci­o­log­i­cal ap­proach of in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the elec­toral out­comes rather lim­it­ing, un­o­rig­i­nal, and sub­jec­tive. The re­cent trend in po­lit­i­cal de­bate re­gard­ing the elec­toral sys­tem re­form un­der­stand­ing of the elec­toral sys­tem in the aca­demic schol­ar­ship. The se­condary stake­hold­ers of this de­bate, that is, jour­nal­ists, colum­nists, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts, in­ter­na­tional ob­server groups, and Pak­istani vot­ers, make for the prime in­ter­est group, whereas, the two pri­mary stake­hold­ers in this de­bate, that is, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists and the leg­is­la­tors re­main un­in­ter­ested. There­fore, the un­der­stand­ing of elec­toral sys­tem among the se­condary stake­hold­ers re­mains rather lim­ited. The elec­toral sys­tem is mainly un­der­stood as to be com­posed of elec­toral reg­u­la­tions, and the elec­toral re­form is un­der­stood as im­prov­ing th­ese reg­u­la­tions. There­fore, the cen­tre of at­ten­tion for th­ese re­forms is the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (ECP). The ma­jor rea­son for such a per­cep­tion is based on the clichéd sim­plis­tic ra­tio­nale that the twoparty con­test is an ef­fect of elec­toral fraud (rig­ging), elec­toral mal­prac­tice and po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, and on the as­sump­tion that th­ese vari­ables are the pri­mary cause of dys­func­tional par­lia­men­tary sys­tem and ret­ro­spec­tive vot­ing be­hav­iour. In 2011, In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG) in a re­port en­ti­tled ‘Re­form­ing Pak­istan’s Elec­toral Sys­tem’ rec­om­mends an agenda for elec­toral re­form that pri­mar­ily con­sists of rec­om­men­da­tions for Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (EC) re­form. In 2013, Pak­istan In­sti­tute of Leg­isla­tive De­vel­op­ment and Trans­parency (PIL­DAT) in a pol­icy brief also rec­om­mends sim­i­lar re­forms aimed at the ECP post elec­tion. Like­wise, the Euro­pean Union Elec­tion Ob­ser­va­tion Mis­sion in 2013 made 50 rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove the elec­tion process, draw­ing at­ten­tion to the 17 crit­i­cal rec­om­men­da­tions that were made to strength­en­ing the elec­toral leg­isla­tive frame­work so to en­sure elec­toral pro­cesses are re­spon­sive and in­clu­sive and are aligned with the ex­pec­ta­tions of all elec­toral stake­hold­ers. In 2014, Free & Fair Elec­tion Net­work (FAFEN) rec­om­mends re­forms that cover crit­i­cal as­pects of pre-elec­tion, elec­tion day and post-elec­tion pro­cesses in or­der to en­sure free, fair and trans­par­ent elec­tions. Al­most all of the elec­toral sys­tem re­form rec­om­men­da­tions and po­lit­i­cal rhetoric fo­cus on mi­nor re­forms such as elec­toral reg­u­la­tions and pro­cesses, and none on the ma­jor re­form that is re­vis­ing the sin­gle mem­ber district plu­ral­ity sys­tem with a more com­pat­i­ble op­tion for a mul­ti­party sys­tem. Hitherto, the fo­cus re­mains on two types of mi­nor re­forms: one in which pro­pos­als for mi­nor re­forms are in­tro­duced, but which fail to be adopted; two in which there are ideas

for changes that might have been made and adopted but were never pro­posed in on elec­toral sys­tem re­form con­tin­ues to be a part of po­lit­i­cal dis­course in Pak­istan and can be un­der­stood as the prod­uct of equi­lib­rium ad­just­ment. That is, op­po­si­tion and small po­lit­i­cal par­ties ac­count for chang­ing po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses (mi­nor re­forms) by ad­just­ing rules in an ef­fort to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo and the prior equi­lib­rium of gov­ern­ment power. In so do­ing, any party that en­gages in equi­lib­rium ad­just­ment does not ad­vo­cate ma­jor re­form, that is, re­vis­ing sin­gle mem­ber district plu­ral­ity sys­tem sys­tem in Pak­istan, and un­der­stood as elec­toral for­mula in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence. In or­der to un­der­stand the de­bate on elec­toral re­form, I pro­pose that po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, leg­is­la­tors, jour­nal­ists in broad­cast and dig­i­tal me­dia in Pak­istan cur­rent elec­toral for­mula in Pak­istan. The main fea­tures of the FPTP sys­tem mag­ni­tude, seat al­lo­ca­tion, and lev­els of pro­por­tion­al­ity. First, the bal­lot as ‘cat­e­gor­i­cal’. In cat­e­gor­i­cal bal­lot struc­ture the choice is lim­ited to one vote; in other words, sup­port for the sole can­di­date of a party per con­stituency which re­sults in chan­nel­ing each par­cel of elec­toral strength into the grasp of a sin­gle party. The sec­ond is the district mag­ni­tude. District mag­ni­tude is num­bers of seats per con­stituency. In Pak­istan, each con­stituency re­turns one mem­ber per district, and per district there are dif­fer­ent num­bers of con­stituen­cies. The mag­ni­tude vari­a­tion is one of the most crit­i­cal is­sues that Pak­istan faces with the ex­er­cise of char­ac­ter­is­tic of the cur­rent elec­toral for­mula is the level of seat al­lo­ca­tion. In sin­gle-mem­ber plu­ral­ity sys­tem the level of seat al­lo­ca­tion in one. In other words, each voter casts a vote in a con­stituency; seats in that con­stituency are awarded in ac­cor­dance with the rules to par­ties (and can­di­dates); and each party’s na­tional to­tal of seats is sim­ple the sum of the seats it won in each of the con­stituen­cies. Based on the fol­low­ing for­mula of seat al­lo­ca­tion, the two largest par­ties, the PPP-P and the PML-N, have al­ways man­aged to trans­late a mi­nor­ity man­date (less than 30 per cent of to­tal votes) into a ma­jor­ity man­date (share of seats) in the na­tional assem­bly. Thus, the share for­ma­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment in Pak­istan un­der the cur­rent elec­toral for­mula. The fourth crit­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic is lev­els of pro­por­tion­al­ity, that is, to dis­trib­ute seats among par­ties in a way that ev­ery party re­ceives ex­actly the same share of seats as it won the votes. In or­der words, it is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween seat and votes share of par­ties. This can be mea­sured in con­junc­tion with seat al­lo­ca­tion for­mula and district mag­ni­tude as the two vari­ables of an elec­toral out­come. The smaller the district mag­ni­tude the greater is par­lia­men­tary dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity. Th­ese main fea­tures of elec­toral sys­tem in Pak­istan are crit­i­cal to elec­toral re­form de­bate, the one I clas­sify as ‘ma­jor re­form’, in or­der to change the frame­work for elec­toral pol­i­tics, and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence in Pak­istan. This ap­proach can pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive frame­work to un­der­stand and study elec­toral out­comes in Pak­istan which be­yond clichéd sim­plis­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tion that the two-party con­test is a di­rect ef­fect of elec­toral fraud (rig­ging), elec­toral mal­prac­tice and po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion; and that ret­ro­spec­tive elec­torate be­hav­iour is at­trib­ut­able to so­cial cleav­ages based on class and reli­gion.

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