Reforming Pakistan’s Electoral System

Fundamental reform of Pakistan's electoral process must reflect true democracy starting from the grassroots level. Whether Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri get elected or not is of no consequence, history will record their contribution as catalysts for wholesale and meaningful change.

Posted on 09/3/14
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
(Photo by Olaf Kellerhoff, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by Olaf Kellerhoff, Creative Commons License)

Historically progressive, Pakistan’s bourgeoisie has compromised with imperialism and feudal/tribal elements, with almost all political parties in Pakistan run like feudal estates.  The basic ingredient of any functioning democracy, the present form of elections has reduced Parliament to a mere ritual-like exercise with those elected considering power a free licence to loot, plunder and oppress the people for the next five years. To quote my article of May 5, 1995 titled ‘Direct Vote and Democracy’, “other than bad advice our political leadership depends upon “special interest groups” (and individuals) for survival once they are in office rather than on the electorate that voted them into office.”


Accountability being the touchstone of democracy, consider the public apathy towards rampant nepotism and corruption, resigning us to tolerate the blatantly corrupt as the “guardians of democracy”. (Former President Asif Ali) Zardari’s mantra about “Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue” conveniently ignores the missing US$ 60 million in Swiss accounts.  Shedding crocodile tears about democracy, why does Khurshid Shah not lose any sleep over Zardari’s penchant for “corruption, corruption and more corruption”?


Discarding the 12th century “Majoritarian” or First-past-the-post (FPTP) system, many newly emerging democracies labelled it unsatisfactory, it is under reform in many countries. A constituency has 100 eligible voters and 10 candidates. A gets 11 votes, B 9 and the 8 others 10 each. Assuming 100% participation, someone wins the election with 11% of the vote with 89% against. If only 40% of eligible voters vote, roughly the norm for Pakistan, the winning candidate could win with even 5% of those eligible.


The Supreme Court (SC) ruled in June 2012 in the “Workers’ Party Case” that the British model FPTP system violated the principle of majority (citing over 40% of races in the 2008 elections won with under 50% of the vote and be replaced “to ensure true representation of the people and rule of the majority” by switching to “Proportional Representation” and consider adopting “run-off voting” for single seat elections, a second round being held if no candidate gets a clear majority.


Governance by Local Bodies (LB), the very basis of democracy, is criminally ignored by anyone coming to power.  In Civil Appeal 297 of 2014 on 19 Mar 2014, the SC held that delaying Local Bodies (LB) elections for 9 years violated the Constitution, directing the Provincial Govts to frame laws within 45 days, i.e. by May 3, 2014 and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold LB elections within 5 months from 19 Mar 2014 (expired on Aug 18, 2014).  Before correcting the inherent defects in the Electoral Rolls, a National Census (last in 1998) must also correct the glaring anomalies in delimitation, allowing only plus/minus 15% deviation, e.g. rural constituencies in Sindh have about 15000 voters compared to 45000 in Karachi.


Major electoral reforms should include, viz. (1) All elections including the Senate by direct vote (2) Aspirants must first get elected at the basic community level but (3) cannot compete for more than one seat and (4) Must be registered income tax payer giving proof of residence with local taxes paid for at least 3 years (declaration of assets and that of their immediate family reconciling with their known sources of income) (5) the winner  must get more than 50% majority, otherwise the first two candidates go through run-off elections, (6) Elections to the Assemblies and the Senate must be preceded by LB elections. With individual stakeholders self-governing at the grassroots level (7) No Assembly more than 4 years (8) 25% seats in the Assemblies above the present composition should be on the basis of “Proportional Representation” (PR) of party voters cast and similarly 25% reserved for the losing female candidates on party basis (9) The Presidential Elections must be by direct vote with candidates from political parties having not less than 10% of the popular vote in the National Assembly elections, the Governors of Provinces being similarly elected and (10) Accountability of all aspirants is crucial with initial scrutiny to be followed by a detailed one.


Every institution of the state has been subjected to muckraking, an increasingly corrupted media taking vicarious pleasure scurrilously targeting the superior judiciary and the Armed Forces. The moral authority of the govt having been virtually destroyed, the credibility of democracy is in tatters.  National security does not comprise guarding our territorial boundaries against external aggression and/or fighting internal strife, what about the massive erosion of societal security? Administrative breakdown could lead to anarchy, the ongoing terrorism could degenerate into an internecine civil war. Look at Libya, Syria, Iraq, etc!


My humble suggestions on various TV channels to resolve the present crisis, viz (1) the Punjab chief minister must resign for an impartial investigation into the June 17 Model Town incident (2) (3) A Judicial Commission must investigate the 2013 electoral rigging (4) Dissolving the present Cabinet, Mian Nawaz Sharif should form an all-political parties national government, the National Assembly (NA) having a one-point agenda of enacting political reforms within 30-40 days and (5) there is moral and legal basis thereafter to dissolve the Assemblies, transitioning to a Caretaker regime (appointed by the SC to avoid controversy) to hold elections.


Fundamental reform of the electoral process must reflect true democracy starting from the grassroots level. Whether Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri get elected or not is of no consequence, history will record their contribution as catalysts for wholesale and meaningful change.


The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at

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