Political Crisis: What do we need?

by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundipakistani-politics

In last few months it seems both opposition and government has been engaged in negative politics. Opposition is refusing to accept the mandate of the last election citing irregularities. Government on the other hand believes that Pakistan Tehreeke Insaf (PTI) the leading opposition party has been crying over spilt milk without any substantial evidence to validate their claims. To prove its point PTI organized successful public rallies in Islamabad, Sialkot and Bhawalpur and has now announce to run on Islamabad on August 14th for an Azadi March. PTI started its street movement on May 11th 2014 by presenting a charter of demand for electoral reforms. Few weeks later it announced that they will resign from the assemblies in protest over government’s inability to investigate voting fraud in the last elections. Then few weeks later it is now demanding complete audit of the election and a mid-term election.

As member of PTI, I have strongly opposed party’s approach to depart from the original demand of electoral reforms and seek mid-term elections as it will not solve the structural problem faced in Pakistan. Majority of party supporters are also more interested in electoral reforms but handful of decision makers are ignoring the majority. Unless we address structural and systemic issues of the election process the country cannot emerge as a stable democracy. Shifting party focus from electoral reforms to mid-term elections also has the potential to annoy its support base as well as erode its goodwill among the people. One of the other complaint about PTI is that it has not offered any viable plan to address major issues face by the nation for instance load shedding, poverty alleviation, economic growth and unemployment. There are also mixed reviews about its performance in KP and its lack of focus on IDPs crisis.

Instead of seeking mid-term elections which will basically result in same people returning to the assemblies. It is more appropriate to address the structural problems faced by the body politics of Pakistan. First and foremost is the conversion of political parties from loyalty or fan clubs to ideologically driven institutions. An institution is driven by a constitution rather than an individual or family. Decisions are made after a consultative process as per the procedure laid down in the bylaws of the party constitution. Any decision that is in breach of the party constitution has no legitimacy and not binding on the party members. Party offices are held through a process of election rather than nomination by the dominant family. The proposed electoral reforms should not only cover the mechanics of electioneering but should also force political parties to convert themselves into institution. Failure to achieve this objective will keep the destiny in the hands of an elite group that will reward their friends and family for their loyalty rather than allow merit to prevail.

A political system cannot grow and have fresh ideas unless and until new leadership is allowed to emerge through the ranks. The best way to achieve this objective is holding local government elections. Another benefit of instituting local government is that services will start being delivered to the people through their local councilman who is more accessible rather than through an MPA or MNA sitting in a provincial or federal capital. PTI will gain a lot of respect and goodwill of the people if it can organize free and fair elections for local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Party promised to deliver on this promise within 90 days of coming to power and it is about time that we deliver it as soon as possible. CM KP Pervez Khattak has repeatedly claimed that there is no delay on their part. It is surprising that there is no pressure built in the street protest to demand ECP to hold local government election in KP without delay.

Another structural change we need is to take away development funds from MPAs and MNAs. This system of development funds was introduced by General Zia ul Haq to reward parliamentarian for their loyalty to his military rule. This system creates incentive for parliamentarians to become investors in the election process rather than being driven by their legislative priorities to improve lives of the people. Development funds should be instead given to local government representatives with agreed benchmarks for delivery.

One of the most common complaints in elections is the complacency of election staff in closing their eyes to vote stuffing and other irregularities. Election staff is delegated from various government departments including education, health, and district administrations. These people are obliged to various parties as their jobs are the result of political influence. They repay this favor by giving free hand to the volunteers of these political parties to engage in voting irregularities. This situation can be fixed by using cheaply available technology as well as severe punishment for those that are found engaged in fraud. All polling stations can have cctv recording of the polling day and these videos are saved as an evidence. Similarly election commission of Pakistan can provide email address for each constituency so that people can submit their evidence of election fraud like pictures, video and audio clips electronically. Election staff found engaged in election fraud should be treated as a risk to homeland security and suspended from their government jobs as well as banned for say 10 years to be re-employed in any government position.

Electoral experts can talk about regulations needed to improve the system but it goes without saying the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should be given more powers as well as an autonomy to conduct elections. It should strictly impose the code of ethic on all politicians and political parties. On the other hand politicians have to also remember that they have to exhibit civilized behavior as elected representative of people. For instance using inappropriate language for an opponent or throwing allegations at each other without substantiated proofs should be avoided. This behavior erode people’s confidence in politicians and politics.

One of the dilemmas of commercial media is the erosion of editorial control as the marketing departments dictate the focus of the news content. Marketing departments are more concerned with what can drive eye balls to their screens rather than editorial appropriateness of the content. This behavior needs to change as it is about time that our media shows a little more maturity in dealing with matters of politics and national issues. Dramatization of headline news has desensitized people to appreciate the gravity of an event. People should start switching off channels that encourage fist fights between politicians rather than engage in meaningful debate on issues.

The point I am trying  to make is that we have a lot of work to do to create systemic change in our election process to make them free and fair. Creating political stalemate to demand mid-term elections will not solve any of our problems. Government on the other hand must not exhibit indifference towards the opposition and open far reaching dialogue with them. We should first use street pressure for electoral reforms through this elected parliament. Then investigate the extent of irregularities in the last elections and if a consensus develops that a new mandate is needed then move towards early elections. This is a more orderly way of resolving issues rather than create risks for a young democracy that is only 7 years old.

Thanks & regards

Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi former President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA & member PTI Advisory Committee

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