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March 6, 2015

Money talks

Opinion

March 6, 2015

The proposed 22nd Amendment to the constitution seeking to change the method for electing the upper house of parliament drew the line between political leaders who are committed to cleaning out the Aegean stables and those for whom corruption is the highest political virtue.
That is what the proponents of the amendment, which was not eventually passed, would have us believe. Was the legislation in question really an attempt at promoting cleaner politics?
Money talks and does so louder in politics – and Pakistan is no exception. Elections are largely a pecuniary affair. Votes are bought and sold like a commodity. All else being equal, the more a candidate is capable of and willing to spend, the brighter are the prospects of his or her victory. Any surprises? No.
Stripped of its ethical garb, politics is essentially a power game and money has always been, and will remain, a key element of power. Just look at the list of the successful candidates fielded by the three largest political parties in the 2013 elections, and any doubts about the power of the money will be cast off.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) rules prescribe Rs1.5 million as the maximum amount of money a candidate for the National Assembly can spend on his/her electioneering. Is the stipulation adhered to? Hardly.
A typical NA constituency comprises some 200 polling stations. On election day, a candidate is supposed to provide meals to polling agents and supporters, and transport to the voters. In the run-up to the polls, he has to campaign all over his constituency. Thousands of posters, not to speak of banners and billboards, have to be printed and pasted and replaced at least twice a week. Staff and transport have to be hired for door-to-door electioneering. These are all ‘legitimate’ items of expenditure. Even the cost of these things goes up to millions, making a mockery of the ceiling on electoral spending.
Whether it is political parties or independent

candidates, they leave no stone unturned to ensure their victory. Thus it’s not a big deal if they have to barter a few million rupees for purchasing the support of influential people in the constituency as well as that of the ordinary voter. But seldom has a candidate been disqualified for having overshot the limit on electoral spending.
Having doled out so much in cash and kind to return to the assemblies, the legislators can’t be realistically expected to exhibit a particular disdain for money. This doesn’t mean that the parliamentarians are by and large a corrupt breed. What it means is that given the role money plays in every election, it is difficult to resist the temptation of a monetary reward if the stakes are high.
Not surprisingly, change of loyalties, or horse-trading as it is commonly referred to, has been a salient feature of Pakistani politics. A multiparty system, which makes sure that more often than not no single party is in a position to form the government on its own, together with lack of healthy democratic conventions has encouraged both political parties and individual legislators to resort to sale and purchase of loyalties.
The 14th Amendment, enacted in 1997 during the second term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, sought to curb the practice by inserting Article 63A into the constitution. The new article declared that a lawmaker would be deemed to have defected, and thus would be liable to be unseated, from a political party if s/he (a) committed a breach of party discipline; (b) voted contrary to any direction issued by the party; and abstained from voting in the House against party policy on any Bill.
The 18th Amendment enacted in 2010 watered down Article 63A by declaring that a member would be deemed to have defected in only two cases: one, s/he quits his party and joins another; two, s/he votes contrary to the direction of his/her party in relation to: (i) election of the prime minister or the chief minister; (ii) a vote of confidence or no confidence; and (iii) a money bill or a constitutional amendment bill.
It is obvious that the 18th Amendment does not apply to Senate elections. Thus while electing a Senator, a member of the National Assembly or that of a provincial assembly may vote contrary to the party policy without making him/herself liable to be proceeded against for defection. Besides, the constitution (Article 226) stipulates that elections to the upper house must be conducted by secret ballot thus making it difficult to ascertain who voted for whom.
The proposed 22nd Amendment sought to amend Articles 63A and 226 by providing that the condition of secret ballot would not apply to Senate elections thus making it evident who voted for whom; and that a legislator voting contrary to party direction while electing a Senator would be deemed to have defected and thus would lose his/her seat.
The proposal was initiated by the ruling PML-N, and supported by the PTI, amid stories doing the rounds that horse-trading was rampant in the run-up to the upper chamber polls. The proposed amendment was opposed by the PPP, among others, ostensibly for the reason that changes in the basic law of the land needed thorough deliberations; and that the provisions of the 22nd Amendment should form part of a comprehensive constitutional package for electoral reforms. However, critics of PPP leader Asif Zardari maintain that he opposed the proposal because he thought his party would be a beneficiary of said horse-trading.
Be that as it may, the same argument may be used against the leadership of both the PML-N and the PTI: Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan backed the 22nd Amendment, because they feared horse-trading might cause them to lose seats. The solution: go for an open ballot and make voting against party direction in Senate elections an instance of defection. Both Sharif and Khan are well aware of the wonders that money can do in politics and both, like Zardari and others, keep in view the financial credentials of the candidates while awarding them party tickets. This is only logical. One plays to win, not to lose.
There is no gainsaying that corrupt political practices must be curbed. The point to note is that our political leadership is not against such practices in principle. They oppose these practices when they stand to lose by them and encourage them when they stand to gain by them. The power of money is welcome – whenever it works to one’s advantage.
The author is a graduate from a western European university.
Email: [email protected]

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