Tasks before the EC

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The time is now

With the elections due in March 2013, the Election Commission (EC) has a super heavy agenda before it. On the stake is the credibility of the next elections as well as that of the EC itself.

That successive military rules have taken a heavy toll on the institutions is best exemplified by the state of the EC. Till the passage of the 18th Amendment, the Commission was totally dependent on the executive which could manipulate it to have results of its liking. It is now an independent body with members enjoying a five-year tenure. It has also been given extra powers under the 20th Amendment.

What is needed on the part of the EC is to learn to use its newly acquired powers. Except for the Waheeda Shah case, there is little to indicate that the Commission has awoken to its responsibilities. Laws, even constitutional provisions, have been violated and no notice taken. There is not only a need to implement the existing laws but also to update those that cannot cope with some of the existing malpractices. The wrongs committed in the past must not be repeated. Let us remind the Commission of some of the issues that need to be tackled urgently.

Error-free electoral rolls that the Commission had undertaken to prepare by February 23 are nowhere in place despite constant goading by the Supreme Court. Whatever has been done by Nadra in this respect gives the impression of shoddiness. For instance, there are complaints from Sindh that the lists prepared by the Authority have serious flaws. Cases have been reported where people living in Sindh have been given voting rights in Balochistan. In other cases, votes of those who have been living and working in Karachi for decades have been registered in the interior of the province.

Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees that there shall be no discrimination against women and that the state shall make provisions for the protection of women. Despite this, women at certain polling stations in Mardan and Mianwali were not allowed to vote during the February by-elections. Earlier in 2011, women were also debarred from voting at a number of polling stations in by-elections in Kohistan and Shangla. The EC should have withheld the results of these constituencies which it simply failed to do.

Any survey of the electoral rolls will reveal that the number of women registered as voters does not genuinely reflect the existing male-female ratio in accordance with the demographic survey. Unless the names of all women of voting age are on the electoral rolls, elections would remain flawed. For this, a law has to be made and the EC has to gather courage to enforce it.

There is a decades old complaint of gerrymandering of constituencies in Karachi to favour MQM. This queers the pitch for other parties. The issue needs to be resolved before the general elections

During the Senate elections, the PPP lost a seat from Punjab despite possessing the required number of votes. This naturally led to allegations of horse trading. In the 2006 Senate polls, PPP candidate Farhatullah Babar had suffered a similar fate. The Commission has to make the needed changes in laws to end the sale of votes in Senate elections.

FATA Senators’ elections are simply scandalous. The money paid during the recent elections by each of the four elected Senators to the electoral college of 11 FATA MNAs was reportedly in the range of nine figures. How the Senators would retrieve the huge investment along with the profit is anybody’s guess. The EC has to do whatever it takes to end the malpractice.

Candidates contesting elections make false statements regarding their assets and qualifications. They get away with this presumably because there is no law to bring them to book.

The use of money in elections has turned the assemblies virtually into millionaires’ clubs where middle class candidates are denied access. The money starts flowing with the announcement of the elections and continues to change hands till the announcement of the results. The situation in neighbouring India was not much different a couple of decades back. The Indian EC has finally succeeded in enforcing a code of conduct that has stopped the visible use of money in elections. Unless similar measures are taken in Pakistan by the EC, the doors of the assemblies will remain closed for the common man.

The use of muscle power is another factor that favours the ruling elite and the mafia dons in big cities like Karachi. What the previous EC did was to make no more than symbolic moves to end to the display of weapons. It took only selective action in more prominent cases of violence. The practice has, thus, continued to flourish.

This has led parties to allot tickets only to the so-called “winnable candidates” – in other words those who can spend crores and have gangs at their command. It is no surprise that the assemblies are devoid of talented politicians. Most legislators are disinterested in the legislative activity leading to the all too frequent lack of quorum. They come to Islamabad or the provincial capitals during parliamentary sessions mostly to get personal jobs done.

The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.

1 COMMENT

  1. In Punjab, every body knows, Shabaz Sharif played the dirty trick and bribed six MPAs from Punjab. Horse trading took place in Lahore; yet Election Comissioner remained mum and did not show his activism like he has in case of Waheeda Shah.

    SHAHID HUSSEIN QABOOLPURIA,
    LAHORE, PAKISTAN

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