Looking at the mismanagement of elections in 2013 and gory scenes of violence that took place in some places, one wonders as to why this phenomenon is plaguing Pakistan’s political scene, every time we have elections at any level. Holding of both Provincial and National assembly elections in one day have badly affected the democratic process, leaving less room for deliberation and thinking by the voter; it is high time that electoral reforms should create enough space for elections.
Election Commission of Pakistan and our politicians appear to be in a hurry to conduct the general elections in one day, including the provincial and national assemblies. Although a lot of preparations are made and entire machinery of the state remains busy in making it a success, the actual exercise of voting by people (which is the most important phase of the entire process) is given mere 10 hours to create the all-powerful legislature body.
Although it may appear irrelevant, it is interesting to note that members of assemblies (who have the privilege to decide the destiny of the state) are elected in one day, whereas the civil servants are selected through testing and interviews spread over many weeks and months. Civil Servants through Federal Public Service Commission take an entire six months of the vetting and examination process. Military Cadets take approximately five months of selection process, even soldiers’ recruitment takes three months of testing.
Learning lesson from the election process in India and Indonesia can help one understand that why is it necessary to increase the time frame of general elections within Pakistan. The Indian general election of 2014 for 543 parliamentary constituencies of India was conducted in nine phases from 7 April to 12 May 2014.
Indian electorate is much larger than Pakistan and it takes five weeks to complete the process, why Pakistan cannot think of a proportionate electoral time frame to allow the process to be executed with patience and efficiency. It can be a logical conclusion that National Assembly elections should be given at least a week’s time. This would allow the election commission and the election apparatus to address the issues of compressed time frame as well as security and transparency. It is also interesting to note that Indian Vidhan Sabha (provincial and state) elections have a totally different time frame spread over years and is rotated region wise.
In Pakistan, elections become an administrative and logistic nightmare where election commission and state apparatus is found running from pillar to post to conduct the most important exercise of democracy in a single day.
Last KPK local bodies elections are an interesting reminder that the election Commission as well as KPK government failed to execute the process due to compressed time frame and lack of resources. Political parties were blaming the PTI lead government, PTI was blaming election commission and there was added call for redoing the entire exercise. Nine people died during poling and there was a sense of insecurity in many districts of KPK.
Let us get to the economic cost and the main argument against phased elections, the excuse of lack of resources and trying to economize the whole process by holding elections in one day. If the elections are phased, staggered and spread over a period of one week for National assembly and one month for provincial assemblies, how would it cost more than the present arrangement? If we look back at the 2013 general elections (which were held in traditional time frame of one day) and see where do we stand today, one may find that Pakistan as state has paid a heavy economic price as well. One, the ruling party and the opposition remained locked into battles in the courts and election commission, how much time and money has been spent by the state and opposition parties to fight these cases in the courts?
Another factor is the disenfranchisement of the educated middle class (civil servants and military personnel). Bulk of educated civil servants and military personnel and their families become disenfranchised on the day of election as they are deputed on election duties throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan. A small survey of military and civil servants indicated that only 10% of them have voted in the last two elections. So technically we are making the literate middle class to not to vote on the day of elections. Although postal ballot is an option, the civil servants and Army personal deployed for other duties find it difficult to keep a track of time for postal ballot.
The pre and post-election duties make it well-nigh impossible for them and their families to cast their votes in respective constituencies. Majority of the six million civil servants and military personnel and their families remain disenfranchised and are unable to exercise the right to vote because of the complicated system of doing it in one day.
Similarly Pakistani diaspora living abroad, who contributes a major portion of our economy, is also left out, despite SCP emphasizing on inclusion of oversees Pakistanis in the voting process, not much has been done in this regards.
One should think of having National and Provincial elections in two phases; at least one week should be deputed for National Assembly elections and four weeks for Provincial Assemblies. This would help in increased efficiency, comfortable time frame for voters and better management of security. Like India, media should be forbidden to promulgate the results of elections till the time entire process has not been completed by the election Commission. The issue of time for campaigning for elections should be adjusted accordingly; we can take a cue from Indian model. The civil servants and military personnel should be allowed a comfortable time frame to cast their votes through electronic means so that this educated lot of more than six million does not remain disenfranchised.
Pakistan has suffered enough with inconsistent and imbalanced electoral processes and lack of seriousness on part of political leadership to address the issue through basic common sense. It’s high time they realize the faults in the system and revolutionise the election system to make a better Pakistan for coming generations.