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Making elections meaningful

19 February, 2007

By Aqil Sajjad


Pakistan has seen many elections in its chequered history and almost all were labelled rigged, unfair or engineered by one political party or another. For the upcoming elections, the opposition has already started voicing its fears of manipulation by the government, while the latter promises to conduct free and fair elections.

In addition to the controversy over rigging, several other structural flaws exist in our political system. These prevent elections from being a meaningful exercise for the genuine empowerment of the people. Some issues involving elections have

gone largely unnoticed thus far and need to be addressed. Hereare some suggestions:

1. The Election Commission should be made independent. For this purpose, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition should nominate up to three names for the chief election commissioner and other key offices of the election commission. A

joint parliamentary committee comprising of treasury and opposition members (in proportion to their seats in parliament) should decide upon these nominations. Appointments for the provincial election commissions should be made in the same way by joint committees of the respective provincial assemblies.

2. The Election Commission should comprise four branches, namely the voter enrolment wing, the political qualifications wing, the political programmes wing and the elections wing. Their functions should be as follows:

(a) The voter enrolment wing should prepare and maintain an up to date voters lists.

(b) The political qualifications wing should investigate the declared assets and credentials of all aspirants for political office. The wing should invite confidential observations from the public to determine whether candidates meet the eligibility criteria for contesting elections. It should prepare a summary of its findings and forward it to a public jury for an open hearing. The jury should qualify a person only if the declared assets are complete and accurate and there is no evidence of prior corruption or abuse of power on his part. The jury should disqualify a candidate if adequate grounds for disqualification are found after giving him a chance to defend himself.

All such hearings should be open to the general public and the media for live coverage. The credentials of the candidates, their declared assets, the summaries prepared by the political qualifications wing, and full transcripts of the hearings

should become public documents and be made available on the Internet.

The qualification process should start at least six months before the elections to allow adequate time. Only qualified people should be allowed to contest the elections.

(c) The political programmes wing should collect the manifestos of all the contesting political parties and make them available to the media and various professional forums in the country. It should also hold live debates on the manifestos as explained in point 6 below.

(d) The elections wing should administer the actual polling process.

3. In order to improve transparency and reduce the chances of manipulation of results, the counts at each polling station should be announced on-site as the final and official results for that polling station. The final result declared at the centre should be a simple compilation of the figures announced at all the polling stations and include a breakup of the votes received by each contestant at each polling station.

4. All political parties should be required to submit their manifestoes to the political programmes registration wing in Urdu, English and relevant regionallanguages at least 6 months before general elections in addition to making them available on their official party websites.

5. To help the voters decide whether the party programmes are viable and not just rhetorical statements, the manifestoes should include, as an integral part, adequate explanation of where the funds for all the promised projects and schemes shall come from.

6. The political programmes wing of the Election Commission should hold live debates on the manifestos starting at least three months before the elections. Recordings and transcripts of the debates should also be made available on the Internet. The debates should be of the following three categories:

(a) Debates on national manifestos: These should cover the party programmes for the federal government and should be transmitted live to the entire nation on national radio and TV with the recordings and transcripts made available online.

(b) Debates on provincial manifestos: These should be held separately and should focus on the programmes for provincial governments. These should also be transmitted live to the whole nation on national radio and TV with the recordings and transcripts made available online.

(c) Live debates for individual MNA or MPA seats: These should be held on local radio and TV stations (with the recordings and transcripts also posted on the Internet) where candidates should explain what legislative issues concern them and how they intend to address them in the legislative assembly. Every candidate for the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies should be required to participate in at least 5 such debates before the elections. Debates of categories (a) and

(b) should not count towards this requirement.

7. Each political party should hold intra-party elections at least 6 months prior to general elections. The party leadership at all three tiers (federal, provincial and local) should be elected through these elections. The central executive body of

each party should also be elected, and not appointed at the sole discretion of the party leader. To ensure transparency, these intra-party processes should be completely open to the media and the general public.

8. Party tickets should be awarded through a transparent and democratic process. Party candidate for every seat should be elected by party workers within the relevant constituency in an exercise of intra-party democracy. These elections should be fully open to the media and the general public to ensure transparency.

9. It must be recognised that the role of MNAs and MPAs is legislation and not the running of local governments in their constituencies. For this reason, candidates for national and provincial assembly seats should be discouraged from making

election promises pertaining to matters that fall in the purview of local governments. Moreover, all political parties should unanimously pass a constitutional amendment to ban the practice of allocating development funds to MNAs and MPAs for their constituencies, since such funds amount to an encroachment on the domain of local governments.

10. Election results for any seat where women's turn-out is less than 25 per cent of the total turn-out should be annulled. The above is neither an exhaustive list of the needed reforms nor a perfect proposal. However, the author hopes that the

government, the opposition and the media will constructively debate these and similar ideas, in an attempt to devise a reasonable framework to help make our fractured democracy more participatory and meaningful for the masses.

Reader Comments:

Pain

It pains me to laugh.

Ahmed Sajjad, Pakistan - 19 February, 2007

Making elections meaningful

Opposition parties in Pakistan are known in voicing their dissatisfaction about polls in the past and if they have already started saying that they are not happy though its long way to go yet when elections are held. Most probably opposition leaders don't trust themselves and their elegibilities if questions majority will fail to contetst the elections. Similarly so many in the government who want to contest are sailing in the same boat. There are many corrupt politicians who would like to come back and must bee investing lot of funds to come into arena of elections.Masses are less concerned about a democracy their main concern is jobs, food, shelter and other basics. More than 70% of its population lives in villages and those votes are always based on family basis. They will support to person who is theirs and the entire family will vote for him/her. There is lack of understanding being not much educated people and fail to realize the value of a vote. It will be a few more years when there is more than 85% education and corrupt politicians are out of the seen then given chance to a democratic system will work. At the present moment there is a journey towards a democracy which is just creeping and change will take long time. Let us hope that during elections there are not many attacks and deaths on each others. Law enforcements authorities got to be alert to safeguard the public as a whole.

mohammad, United Arab Emirates - 19 February, 2007

Nice and meaningful article.

In your 1st suggestion, I would suggest the Joint Parliamentary Committee electing the Election Commissioner should comprise of equal number of members from Treasury and Opposition instead of their being in proportion to the number of seats each holding in the house. Obviously the Treasury holding the majority could sway the selection of the Election Commissioner in their favour.

Col. Jafri (Retd)

Col. Jafri (Retd), Pakistan - 19 February, 2007

what?!

Exactly the reason why i dont support democracy, atleast in a developing nation...Its always corrupt, no matter what the decicison or choice the government makes, the opposition always has to critize. Its so stupid, the way politics work, even then people support the democratic system. You can never have fair elections anywhere in the world, because people vote, every person has a different perception, and people usually unintentionally never look beyond what they see as the front face. e.g. u can say Politican X is a good guys, speaks good, did good...but that doesnt mean he is a god leader. That is why ISlam had the concensus system, like in Iran, or i like what we have in Pakistan, we have democracy, but we also have someone to look over it. If things get out of hand, u can just topple the government, and that has been good in pakistan's case. Look at America, allegedly the freest democracy in the world. 64% of the people arent happy with their president and all they could do was sit back and wait another 2 years, until he goes, ok so they changed the congress...they didnt revert the mistakes..did they, and wont be able to till 2008

uzair usman, United Arab Emirates - 19 February, 2007

Reform of Election is Needed

90 Bangladesh is equal to one Canada with Canada population equal to that of greater Kolkatta or Mumbai i.e 30 million. By any standard Canada is one of the
richest with industries With Good looking buildings surplus Apartment complexes and spacious houses are everywhere. One of the finest road system hiways water front makes Canada quality Of life apparently as the best. Quality of life even for Muslim seems finest.

Elections seem to work. With all difficulties tribunal work.Govt offices
Are everywhere .Courts and Judges are functional. Election is peaceful leaders are elected via democracy rule. Canadian Bank investment for IMF is also worldwide
The roads are Littered with cars and tractor trailer trucks and car show room
and sellers are in every Corner.Even there is Qadiani Muslim Village with
modern housing.One could watch Indian Pakistani movies or program in many
channels simultaneously.

Canada bragged as if Zahara Kazimi was going to win and replace Ayotollah.Instead
She got killed. By international Law , Democracy system of Iran is superior as Canada could not Subdue Ayatollahs .They have own democracy own Islamic system and own methodology.

If you ask me if Democracy which seem functional in Canada with Human rights Commission Ombudsman, licenses tribunal, 700 lawyers 350 lawyers law firms member of parliaments senates provinces federalism Resources fresh water lakes farms
Lumber and surplus food fish salmon fish.They flow in bunch and cattles and finest beef you can eat .Yet there is no One to pick and eat as you wishes. Quality of life in Canada is apparently finest. Is It? What is purpose of life ? They do not exist in democracy?

If you ask me if democracy works after decades of personal experience exposure to democracy and every Situation you can think. My answer is my problem is world
Problem. If democracy does not work for me over decades of expertise leaving me
High dry and Behind as one of the worst professional in the world as one of the worst victim of Democracy, one could project why world cannot function as democracy
One imagines. Reform of democracy which can be Workable around the globe is needed
Using my experience as Role model.


Zakaria_belal, Canada - 20 February, 2007

Largest democracy largest election India

I cannot imagine democracy being functional in Empty Canada or Crowded
Kolkatta or Mumbai .Luxury of democracy is to sue some one using expensive
Lawyer for defamation of character or purchasing $125,000 condos or Quarter
Million Pounder house in London or 3-7 million dollars Flat in Hyde Park
Mayfair London UK or richly Canadian American Homes. Lawyers arrange
Alimony payment or divorce settlement. They are the promoters of election
And democracy.

In streets or bazaar of Kolkatta Mumbai Delhi in the middle of millions of
Citizens present you are surrounded by people watching rape murder wrist watch
Jewellery purse snatch as if watching Bollywood movie filming with no one
In a position to call lawyer or paralegal to service Court papers for assault
Theft or defamation or murder. Who ever says that democracy and election
Works in India is a liar.

In fact who ever says that India IT capital Bangalore caters as a call centre for
World Debt collection or direct phone call is probably telling the truth. IT
Is bankrupt Debt collection Call centres.IT is debt making Champ if phone
Call fees is added topping debt

Imagine Calling IT expert charging citizens to install computers or cell phone in
Kolkatta Mumbai and Delhi. Is there a need for Cellular computer lawyers and
Paralegal via internet. When in fact it is difficult at times to walk from point
Of address A to B for shipment of a computer repairman with a service truck
In 20-30 million people city where most are unemployed or semi employed
With India income /capita $2500 per Annum.In Toronto average Lawyer
Charge $250-750 per hour and they ask you to deposit $5000 in advance
To look into a case for opinion or start a litigation. This is not the kind of
Democracy for the hungry world with low income per capita with huge
Population. Whoever says elections work is telling the truth despite few days to
Count the vote dropped in Ballot Box. What is the purpose of election? Why do
Poor people sacrifice half a day’s meagre income to go to polling station for a false
Hope?

Democracy of Howrah Railway Station in kolkatta is to call a taxi and a coolie
To load the taxi or train. High tech India Engineers working as unemployed coolie probably would like to recommend taking IMF loan to install a crane to load few Indian luggages asking Passenger to load the crane himself.

Looking into the problem of old Europe and entire City of British Raja Time buildings and apartment complexes in India major city or town where huts are crumbling and pounds polluted with prehistoric Structures one would definitely like Democracy reformed to cater poor of the world rather Than few rich clients of luxurious
Democracy called vote casting without any meaning .Democracy is filling ministry buildings which can be done Without vote casting without election we know.


b m z, Hungary - 22 February, 2007

Making Elections Meaningful?

Making Elections meaningful is the work of the masses under the guidance of the "Collectives of Intellectuals" among the masses.
The first question to ask in this respect is, as to why do we elect anyone? We elect, to be represented. Are people at large, in say the USA, UK or any country claiming to be democratic, represented? The answer is NO absolutely and certainly NO. For example, if the people of the USA were represented by their elected persons, would just the 2.5% of Jews be able to overwhelm the 97.5% of non Jews? If there was democracy in the USA could any one defraud the US taxpayers of their hard earned money? How is it that certain groups use US taxpayers' money to create the most unChristian bloodshed in near and distant lands just to earn the lucrative but immoral monetary benefits through such bloodshed?
Let me tell everyone, that there is no democracy anywhere in this world. The elections as, are now, are in fact a "Fraud". Overwhelming majority of people in the USA, UK and possibly in Europe realise this and consequently, do not go to vote. They know it will make no difference to them. They know, that those organised to exert pressure, on those, that they elect, will have their way.
Yes non representation of the masses is a worldwide problem, which has to be solved. It can be solved only by the masses. They have to organise themselves exactly the same way as those "Pressure groups" have organised themselves, to make those elected by the masses, not to repesent the masses. The masses in their turn, need to organise themselves into a bigger "Pressure group" to make their elected person representative of them.
This will happen only and only when the masses will be prepared to be proactive, and come together to organise their own "Peoples' Consultative Committees" in the localities where they live. What will be number of residents constituting such Committees should be decided by the intellectuals among the people. Such Mahallah Committees should be easily managable. Residents of the locality should be able to meet on regular basis to organise self help for the material and moral uplift of residents as well as have their "True and Effective" representation.
Only when people start coming together through their Mahallah Committees will they be in a position to elect their true representatives. By coming together regularly, people will be able to make their elected person accountable and answerable to them as well as organising moral and material uplift of the residents of the locality.
This also means that there will be several tiers of peoples' representation in between the Mahallah Committees and eventual, Qaumee Mujlis. Each elected person being answerable to those who elected them.
The "Essence" of Democracy tells us that in the Qaumee Mujlis there should be no "Ruling" and the "Ruled" group. Every ministry though headed by a Civil Servant should be guided by the Committees of the elected, answerable to the Mujlis. Any support or opposition for any Bill will need to come from the masses at large through their Mahallah Committees going through the various tiers of the Committees of the elected.
The educated, the intellectuals the social workers, the political workers among the masses have a very heavy responsibility in guiding the masses towards coming together to organise self help and to organise "True and Effective" representation of the masses.
Rallying round one person as leader of the masses must be made outdated. Collective leadership of the intellectuals is a much much better alternative.
If and when the masses will show the will to replace the present "Unjust" sytem of "Ruler and the Ruled", to replace it with true and effective Democracy, will people be able to reap the fruits of their true labour.
In fact there is Divine guidance for the benefit of the people. To avoid rallying round one person the guidance is: "Create not and Idol and worship not an Idol". "Rally round Me, so that you all can be united". United like a strong rope.
The guidance for true Democracy is: "when you come to decide the fate of the people, do always consult them and remeber, uphold Justice at all the times". So we can see that we, have been guided to run our affairs through mutual consultation and consent and uphold Justice always. Making the injustice "Ruler and the Ruled", out of date is also an obligatory act for us.

H.Wasty, United Arab Emirates - 24 February, 2007

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