Volume 22 Issue 6, June 2018


We all know that the whole democratic system of governance revolves around votes which determine who will form the government and who will sit in the opposition. The voting pattern also determines whether the government will be a strong one, with a simple majority on its own and will not need the help of other parties in attaining the simple majority in parliament.

If the ruling party manages to get a two-thirds majority - either on its own, or through help from other parties - it can even get powers to make changes in the Constitution. However, this power still remains subject to the approval of the Supreme Court which can rule out the amendment if it is considered to be in violation of the spirit of the Constitution.

It follows that votes do indeed place in a privileged position the leaders and parties that these are given to but, at the same time, put a heavy responsibility on their shoulders to serve the masses honestly and diligently.

Unfortunately, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Safdar's demand "Vote ko Izzat Do" (Give respect to vote) takes account only of their privilege with no reference to their obligation to serve the masses and to serve them well, something in which they have utterly failed.

Also, in order to earn sanctity, the vote has to be cast in a certain environment, meaning:
1) It should have been cast voluntarily in a free and fair election.

2) For each slot, capable and honest candidates should be available to choose from.

That means the candidates participating in the elections ought to have been scrutinized thoroughly through a suitable vetting mechanism in the political parties and thus be worthy of the vote. In case of non-existence of such arrangements in the parties - which is the norm in Pakistan - and while dealing with independent candidates, the Election Commission staff should perform this scrutiny. In order to perform their task in an unbiased manner, the ECP staff should be given clear instructions, preferably in a check-list form, and of course adequate time, to enable them to discharge their duties in an effective manner.

Also, the declaration forms required from the aspiring parliamentarians should be comprehensive and list all questions, answering which could bring out the financial integrity or otherwise of the candidates. While being Sadiq and Ameen should be a basic requirement, other Zia-era additions, which are more a matter between man (or woman) and God should not be included in the checklist, nor asked verbally.

The declarations should be required to be made on oath, resulting in instant disqualification, coupled with a prison term, if found later to have material errors of omission or commission. Moreover, vetting of parliamentarians should be an ongoing process and not just a one-time, pre-election exercise, conducted in a half-hearted manner.

There is also the question of party structures. The idea of party leadership for life and passing like chattel to the heirs on the death of leaders - or their disqualification by the Supreme Court, but still continuing as de facto party heads - as practised in Pakistan, pollutes the whole system and negates democracy. In functioning democracies, the top leadership changes frequently, especially after adverse results in an election. Since all party positions are filled on merit, suitable replacements are normally available for each slot, with the result that the change takes place smoothly.

Of course, the aforestated cannot be accomplished in Pakistan overnight. However, a serious start has to be made in that direction so that at least after a reasonable period of time, political parties are properly structured. The idea of having 'shadow cabinets' in the opposition parties should also be encouraged. This way the opposition parties could suitably train their members for important positions in a future cabinet and they will be ready to take over whenever the opportunity arises.

There is also another peculiarity in the system of democracy followed in Pakistan.

On top of outright military takeovers of government, there have been varying degrees of influence exercised and interventions made by the non-mandated sectors like the military or the superior judiciary in the work of civilian governments. While the civilian governments call this undue interference in their sphere of activity, they may themselves be primarily responsible for creating such situations by inactivity in the relevant sectors, thus leaving a vacuum in important fields which creates space for non-mandated forces to step in.

The Nawaz Sharif government did not appoint a competent and empowered foreign minister for a number of years and carried on with an adviser on foreign affairs. Another recent example is the nomination of a young man with no diplomatic experience as an ambassador to the United States, despite the availability of seasoned diplomats for the position. A reason for interference by the non-mandated forces is bad governance in vital sectors which creates opportunities for these forces to intervene. It is a common observation that, over the years, the service delivery by nearly all public sector utilities has nose-dived.

It would be advisable even to delay the elections for a few months in order to take the necessary steps leading to a more credible election. It would be a preferred decision as compared to holding the elections in haste and then repenting it as has been done in the past.

Since governance is unlikely to improve substantially overnight, the need for oversight/interventions by non-mandated forces will remain a reality in the near future. In addition to the armed forces which already have a presence, the superior judiciary could also be brought into the National Security Council to expand the scope and activity of the NSC.
If this is done, the demand for respect of the vote would be well-earned.

The writer is a free-lance contributor whose scope of interests is highly diversified, though his main focus is on regional, South Asian and international affairs.

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