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Are Our Elections Realistic?

18 November, 2014

By Col. Riaz Jafri (Retd)


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Sometime back President Musharraf had created a furore when he counter-questioned the Fox News TV interviewer as to what was more important – the constitution of Pakistan or the Pakistan? The ‘lovers’ of the constitution duly aided by the media nearly tore him apart. However, no sooner did this controversy subside, a wave of tumultuous fervour for the elections took the nation by the stride. But were the elections under a dictator legit and constitutional? Boycott or not to boycott was the rumpus that not only demolished in its wake the then cherished democratic charters of  ADPM, the ARD, the COD (Charter of Democracy) and another COD (Charter of Demands) etc. but also created the divide in the ranks of the MMA, the PPP (Aitezaz bowing out to the  Black Coats), the MLN whose top leadership had to swallow its pride on the pretext of not leaving the field open to the PML. Only, in the process poor Imran Khan (PTI), Qazi Sahib (JI), the venerable A! Chakzai and few other non-entities were made the escape goats who lost their chance, if any, of making to the assemblies. All other  major parties and players had embarked upon mass contacting and canvassing by holding public meetings all over the country. The PPPP of Makhdoom Faheem Amin with 119 NA seats got the better of the rest but where was the constitution when the Chairman of the winning party was nowhere to be seen and the PPP which had not even participated in the elections emerged as if from nowhere to form the government under SYR Gilani as the PM and Asif Ali Zardari declaring himself the President !!

Any way, the time flies fast and we are once again hearing the echoes of elections in the country in the din of Inqalabs, Electoral Reforms and Resignations. Whether the elections would be a midterm elections, a re-election or the fully fledged general elections on the dismissal of the government – constitutionally or unconstitutionally that time will tell. Whatever be the reason for the elections the leaders as well as the voters are displaying a nonchalant comfortable sense of déjàvu. “Oh yeah, we have been through it before and know how to beat the system”. While the opposition leaders’ main strategy is to show great concern for the possible rigging and exposing the mega corruptions of the present and previous rulers, the ruling parties – present and the previous -  are concentrating on blowing their own trumpets and promising the rosy garden path once again to the naïve masses.  However, my mind is burdened by a! much more serious problem that is altogether neglected by all – the political parties, the voters, the masses, the intelligentsia, the media or even the Election Commission et-alwho are so badly blinded by the constitution that they can’t see even beyond their nose.  My dilemma is the fundamental flaws of theVoting Procedure itself !

Our political elections are based on plurality votes, in which a voter selects a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Yet, voting theorists argue that plurality voting is one of the worst of all possible choices. It's a terrible system and almost anything looks better compared to it.  There are other voting systems such as the Runoff voting, a procedure that eliminates candidates from rankings provided by the voters. Another is the Borda count, a point system devised by the 18th-century French mathematician Jean Charles Borda. A third is approval voting, in which participants may cast votes for as many of the candidates as they choose. Unlike these procedures, the plurality system looks only at a voter's top choice. By ignoring how voters might rank the other candidates, it opens the floodgates to unsettling, paradoxical results.

Singular plurality

In elections with only two candidates, plurality voting works fine, since the winner is guaranteed to have been the top choice of more than half the voters. But as soon as three or more candidates are on the ballot, the system can run into trouble. In races with a large slate of candidates, as is quite common in Pakistan, plurality voting dilutes voter preferences, creating the possibility of electing a leader whom the vast majority of voters despised and the plurality vote distorted the preferences of the voters. On paper a victory might look overwhelming, but in reality the winner need not have had a broad-based support. A case in point : 2013 elections where MLN secured only about 15 million (questionable) votes but claims to represent 180 millions of Pakistanis.

Runoff voting

Under this election system, voters first cast a ballot for one candidate from a list of nominated candidates. The candidate(s) with the plurality of votes (either the first two or those who received a pre-determined proportion of the overall votes) then go on to a runoff election where the majority winner wins the elections. This kind of system though generates high election costs yet, is the most reflective of the overall consensus. A case in point: The Recent Presidential Elections held in Afghanistan.

It is quite amusing to see and hear every politician these days clamouring for the restoration of complete democracy and the power to the common man.  Some are, however, truthful and ask for the power transferred to the elected representatives – meaning themselves.  Well, who on earth can deny their such right but only,  if they  are the REAL elected representatives, which I think they are not. Let’s take a look at the electoral phenomenon. Hypothetically speaking, if 4 candidates contest the election from a 100 strong constituency and they poll 25, 25, 24 and 26 votes respectively,  the one getting 26 votes is the winner. Whereas the fact is that 74 persons cast their votes AGAINST him.  Majority has gone against him but he claims to represent them!! How can he/she be the true representative unless a minimum of 51 percent of the voters vote for him/her?  Now how many of our such 'elected' representatives!  poll more than 51 percent of the total votes of a constituency – please note the TOTAL  votes of a constituency and not the total votes cast? It is a common knowledge that not all go to the polls for casting their vote. Aren’t such lost votes, strictly speaking, the ‘abstained’ votes? If the number of the serious contenders in any constituency is more than two then it is nearly impossible for any one of them to secure 51 percent majority. In other words, 51 percent or more people of the area reject them. Runoff voting is, therefore, the answer to remove this anomaly.  And if for some reason it cannot be introduced soon, we can consider another option of having the ‘NO’ votes. Briefly, each ballot paper should have a ‘box’ for the “None Above” also along with the list and the symbols of the nominated candidates.  If a voter does not want to vote for any one of them, he/she could stamp this box. ! This would be a valid ‘NO’ vote like the ‘Ye! s’ vote or the ‘Abstain’ vote. At a polling station if there are more ‘NO’ votes than the highest number of votes polled by anyone, all contestants of that constituency should stand not only unelected but also debarred from further contesting.  Fresh voting with new contestants’ list and of course with the ‘None Above’ box also included in it, should be held there. In this way the unwanted contestants will be eliminated and pretty soon too. 

One thing more, in order to discourage the proliferation of all kind of candidates from Tongawala parties, for each and  every repetitive election the candidate must pay a substantial fee to meet the election machinery expenditure – say, Rs. 500,000/= for the MNA and Rs. 300,000/= for the MPA contest.  It will help weed out the ‘also-ran’ type of candidates and reduce the comically unrealistic number of the political parties from 93 to a dozen or so.

It is another matter that apart from being a Majority Elect, the representative MUST be honest, selfless, capable, upright, uncompromising, man-of-principle, dedicated, devoted to serve, firm fair and above the board in his dealings with all.  How I wish we could find ONE like that?!

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