Sunday September 26, 2021

Reforming the system

November 21, 2020

The issue of electoral reform has been talked about in the country for many years. The question however is precisely how to bring it about in an environment where there are perceptions of interference in almost every election. And even while the laws are intact, people do not believe that elections involve entirely a fair play by all those involved. This makes reform more arduous and more difficult. The prime minister's proposals in this regard and his invitation to the opposition to engage in talks on them are a good sign. In the first place, Imran Khan has suggested that Senate polls involve an open show of hands, rather than secret balloting so that any cases of horse-trading, which are so frequently referred to in discussion can be eliminated and it is clearly demonstrated who may have engaged in such corruption.

However, as experts point out, there's nothing in the law of the land which prevents a member voting against the party line in a ballot of any kind. It is suggested that until such a law comes in, the show of hands proposal would not have meaning. These are issues that need to be discussed calmly and with earnest resolve in a setting where there is less political discord than is currently the case. The prime minister has also spoken about balloting for overseas Pakistanis. The main issue in this, as in other countries, would be giving the right to vote to Pakistanis who are not dual nationals, but live overseas. There's also the proposal that electronic voting machines be introduced in the country, as is the case in India. However, even in India, there's been controversy over these machines and allegations of changes in the vote through electronic means, even when people punch their choice into the machines. The issue is complex; it could involve some constitutional change. The opposition, meanwhile, has rejected the PM's proposals, including the show of hands in the Senate, which many have welcomed, stating it is working on its own set of electoral reforms and will soon make these public.

There is also a need for a strong Election Commission, which can make its will felt across the board. So far, the Election Commission of Pakistan, despite having a high degree of powers on paper, has failed in this. We also need to ask ourselves why after so many years we are still being unable to put in place a proper system for electoral reform. The degree of political division needs to end to make talks on this possible and it is also necessary to go ahead with the move as quickly as possible, given that elections in Azad Kashmir are coming up soon, followed by local bodies elections, and then the next general election.