Unilateral approach for election reforms

A recent report of the Election Commission of Pakistan on rigging in Daska by-poll presents a sobering account of the ‘intentional’ manipulation that took place. We must remember that the foundation of democracy is based on free and fair elections. Despite the fact that Pakistan has been a democracy for most of its 70-plus years, the concept of a free and fair election is unfamiliar to the country.

We have only heard about elections being rigged in all these years, and we have yet to experience an election that is acceptable to all. All of this has cast doubt on the electoral process and the Election Commission’s functioning. As a result, it is in the best interests of both the government and the opposition to advocate for the election reforms. These reforms have always sought to increase the ECP’s institutional capacity and functional autonomy.

Through reforms, fairness in election and counting processes must be emphasized. Both the sides should make no haste in engaging in a constructive dialogue to produce substantial reforms in order to ensure that the upcoming general election in 2023 is free of controversy. The proposed amendments in the Elections Act, 2017, were debated in the Senate’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, which is currently the only parliamentary forum where the proposed reforms have been discussed.

Although, introduction of proposed electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the general elections was just one of the 50 broad amendments recommended by the government in the Elections Act, 2017. Through a new bill, introduced in October 2020, and an ordinance promulgated in May 2021, the subject has been endlessly discussed to the almost total exclusion of the remaining 49 proposed amendments. Except for suggestions addressing electronic voting machines and expat voting rights, things will unfold as the process moves forward.

During the discussion on EVMs in the Senate committee, a standoff was reported by some independent media. Also, a deal was made on several other contentious measures. If no agreement is made on very contentious issues like EVMs, it will be unpleasant and probably a prescription for social and political turmoil. This may be unfortunate that both the government and the opposition are not pushing for unilateral approach on election reforms. The elections are a yardstick of democracy, and if future polls turn out to be as bad as the Daska fiasco, our democracy will be considered a sham.

Ahsan Mobeen | Lahore

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