In parliamentary democracy, elections are held to continue the democratic process from one government to another without an inordinate interregnum.
It is quite welcoming that another democratic government has successfully completed its five-year tenure in the country despite obstructive set-ins and mounting pressure from some non-democratic quarters. All political parties are now heavily engaged in preparing for the upcoming elections, which are scheduled to be held on July 25.
Sadly, the country has, so far, miserably failed to hold free and transparent elections since the 1970s. Soon after the 2013 elections, the PTI started blaming the PML-N for massively rigging the elections. The ensuing sit-ins by the PTI and PAT against alleged riggings resulted in the further weakening of the country’s inchoate democracy by providing an opportunity to anti-democracy forces to make inroads into the country’s politics.
As seen in previous elections, non-transparent polls allow corrupt, incompetent, dishonest and dynastic politicians to enter into the government on the basis of their enormous wealth and influence. On the other side, free and fair elections in Western countries clear the way for experienced, competent and energetic politicians to become part of the government. Such capable leaders help the country attain democratic maturity, unity in diversity, economic prosperity and stability on the security front.
Unfortunately, since the 1990s, our venal and aristocratic leaders have counted on considerable wealth, influence and politicisation of the country’s ineffective institutions to win elections. This has helped a few affluent and influential families to monopolise political power and loot and plunder the country’s dwindling resources. It can be safely said that Pakistan’s flawed electoral system has impeded the effectiveness and efficiency of all major democratic institutions. If the required electoral reforms are further delayed, the country will continue to suffer on the socio-economic and political fronts.
There are certain imperatives which are direly needed for free and fair elections. First, political education of voters plays a significant role in bolstering democratic norms in a country. Such awareness greatly helps people grasp manifestos of mainstream political parties and judge the past performances of individual legislators. The country’s education ratio currently stands at about 58 percent, and a large number of educated people badly lack requisite critical, logical and impartial thinking.
Such badly or partially educated voters have mostly elected crooked and ineffective leaders. Hence, it is imperative that the public is provided with critical and quality education so that they are able to select the best people as their leaders. It is important to note that only quality education will make democracy strike its strong roots in the country’s feudal and dynastic political culture.
Second, Pakistan’s well-off political class often capitalises on poor economic conditions of the people and uses money to purchase votes. Since the poor and the hungry are mostly unaware of the value and power of the vote, they show a willingness to sell their votes for a few thousand rupees. On the eve of general elections, these affluent politicians spend millions of rupees to buy peoples’ votes. After winning their seats, such lawmakers resort to embezzling the monetary resources of the state because they consider politics a lucrative business. They substantially invest in elections and plunder the resources of the country after winning their seats.
It is pertinent that the people are equipped with market-related skills and are provided the relevant job opportunities so that they can easily make their ends meet. As learnt from the West, economic prosperity and empowerment helps people cast their votes independently in terms of choosing effective and able leaders. Moreover, an economically stable nation will also keep stringent checks and balances on the future performance of members of both the legislative and executive bodies after elections.
Third, Pakistan has a deep-rooted feudal political structure. A large number of politicians belong to this powerful class. They own most of the country’s sugar mills, flour mills and possess large swathes of agriculture lands. The police, lower judiciary and bureaucracy often remain at the beck and call of this influential feudal class in rural areas. How can the poor and powerless dwellers of towns and villages independently cast their votes under the sway of these powerful feudal lords?
After elections, the upcoming government should abolish the feudalism entrenched in the country, distribute the land among the needy farmers and depoliticise the police and bureaucracy at the grassroots level. Such a measure will stymie the feudal class from controlling and dominating the lives of the marginalised people in rural areas. For the upcoming elections, the caretaker government ought to deploy the required number of security forces in such feudal-controlled areas so that the common people can exercise their right to elect their leaders freely and without any fear.
Fourth, the national bureaucracy has historically played a pivotal role in helping its likeminded party manipulate and win elections. This is why the incumbent party gives perks and privileges to certain administrators during its tenure so that they assist the ruling party in winning next elections. The caretaker set-ups at both the federal and provincial levels should take serious note of this matter and ensure that the bureaucracy is not able to use manipulative tactics to serve their political bosses. This target can be achieved by transferring suspected, partial and venal bureaucrats to different places.
If any bureaucrats are found guilty of siding with a political party, before or during the elections, strict actions should be taken against them. This will presumably serve as a future deterrent to prevent civil servants from lending unstinted support to their political masters.
Fifth, all major political parties often allocate party tickets to candidates who possess a substantial amount of wealth and have a greater chance of winning the election. This practice enormously helps corrupt politicians win legislative seats easily. So far, the well-educated and energetic youth has been deprived of actively participating in governments. The country’s educated youth should be encouraged and provided adequate space in political parties so that they can be part of governments.
Lastly, Pakistan’s major political parties hardly conduct transparent intra-party elections. This practice is ultra vires to genuine democratic norms, as it allows certain powerful families to dominate the top positions in a political party. For example, a common man in Pakistan can never think of becoming the president of the country’s top political parties such as the PPP and PML-N. So, it is of paramount importance for strengthening democracy that all political parties hold free and fair intra-party elections.
Democratic norms and culture will take a long time to cultivate roots because of the prolonged dominance of the feudal class and civil-military bureaucracy. The holding of transparent and timely elections will further entrench democracy in the country’s political system and social fabric. Hopefully, as the transition of power from one democratic government to another manifestly indicates, the country will have a good democratic structure for the foreseeable future.
The writer is an independentresearcher.