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November 8, 2020

Party elections

Opinion

November 8, 2020

The proposed changes by the government to Election Act 2017 are welcome steps in the right direction as elections are the Achilles heel of our infant democracy. The current political crisis is also the result of elections. The side currently in power gained prominence with a protest against unfair elections. The current opposing side, as is the precedent set by those in power, is now protesting against fixed elections. In short, the new norm is registering a protest after every two years of a general election.

Moving on to the proposed changes; the proposed amendment to Section 202, clause 2, which is about the enlistment of political parties, will include:

‘The application of a political party for registration by the ECP will be accompanied by a list of 10,000 members including at least 20 percent women.’ Currently, this is limited to 2,000 members with no mention of women.

Another proposed amendment is to Section 203, clause 4, related to membership of political parties: ‘A political party will encourage people with “disabilities and transgender persons” to become its members.' Currently, 203(4) only states that a political party shall encourage women to become its members.

These small amendments, highlighted here out of the several amendments proposed, will ensure a representative democracy in the future and are baby steps in a positive direction. However, Section 202(2) should also include a percentage provision for disabled, transgender, and religious minority citizens as it does for 20 percent representation of women. Similarly, Section 203(4) should be more inclusive and add minority citizens as well as disabled and transgender citizens.

Article 206 regarding the selection for elective offices currently reads: “A political party shall make the selection of candidates for elective offices, including membership of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) and provincial assemblies, through a transparent and democratic procedure and while making the selection of candidates on general seats shall ensure at least five percent representation of women candidates.”

There is a need for two amendments to Section 206. First, increase the percentage of the five percent representation of women candidates. Second, include provisions for the percentage representation of candidates who are disabled, transgender, and religious minorities in the selection of general seats.

These proposed amendments and my suggestions will go a long way in ensuring representative democracy. However, the struggle for a representative democracy is a lack of implementation of these amendments at the hands of political parties and the lenient Election Commission Pakistan (ECP).

A case-in-point is the implementation of Section 208 regarding elections within a political party. Section 208 reads: "Elections within a political party.— (1) The office-bearers of a political party at the federal, provincial and local levels, wherever applicable, shall be elected periodically in accordance with the constitution of the political party: Provided that a period, not exceeding five years, shall intervene between any two elections. (2) A member of a political party shall, subject to the provisions of the constitution of the political party, be provided with an equal opportunity of contesting election for any political party office. (3) All members of the political party at the federal, provincial and local levels shall constitute the electoral college for the election of the party general council at the respective levels."

The implementation of Section 208 is non-existent in the political oligopoly of the PML-N, PPPP, and the PTI. These self-claimed champions of democracy cannot even provide sufficient proof of intra-party democracy. Intra-party elections that have taken place over the years are just sham exercises to satisfy the lenient ECP to be assigned election symbols. Otherwise, the ECP pays no heed to the laws through which it functions and the constitutions of this oligopoly.

The PML-N constitution, which is on their party website, states: "The Pakistan Muslim League-N shall hold party elections at all levels in a free and fair manner and by secret ballot based on a democratic and transparent procedure laid down by CWC. (b) The party will hold an election after the expiry of 4 years term from the date of previous elections atcCentral/ provincial/ local levels through a secret ballot."

The PPP-P constitution, which should exist on their website and be provided by the ECP under the Right to Information Act 2017, calls for holding intra-party polls after a gap of two years.

The PTI constitution, which is on their party website, states: "Party elections shall be held in two parts: chairman election to be held two years before each scheduled general election in the country. The election for other office bearers to be held every three years in the first week of the month of April."

It is safe to say that no member of this oligopoly is abiding by their constitutions. It is laughable that those who cannot enforce democracy and their constitution within their ranks will do so in all of Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest irony is that these champions of democracy cannot even ensure clause 2 of Section 208: “A member of a political party shall, subject to the provisions of the constitution of the political party, be provided with an equal opportunity of contesting election for any political party office.”

It is childish to ask but can there be a PML-N without a member of the Sharif family heading it? Can there be a PPP-P without a member of the Bhutto family leading it? Is it possible to even envision a PTI, which relies heavily on brand Imran Khan, without Imran Khan as its chairman? The chance of a regular and or poor political worker heading any member of this oligopoly is merely a pipe dream.

We can have new laws and amendments daily that will show our lawmakers doing their utmost to ensure a representative democracy. What use are these when those in power and opposition cannot make sure that the ECP is empowered so that it can question those in power and opposition?

Those with any regard for intra-party democracy in the National Assembly should put forth amendments for strict fines and delisting of political parties in the event of non-compliance with their respective constitutions under the Election Act 2017. These amendments will empower the ECP and ensure that the ECP punishes those who abrogate the party constitution.

The empowerment of institutions like the ECP would be a real victory in the struggle for representative democracy and the national accountability of the political oligopoly.

The writer is a Northern Iowa public administration graduate with a specialization in policy design and implementation.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ahsanjehangirkh