In my last two articles I wrote about our current system being oligarchic in nature rather than democratic and how it was essential for us to move towards a functioning democracy rather than settling for the farce we currently have.

In the last piece I proposed some steps needed for systemic reform. One was the introduction of an empowered and functional local government system and not the current system that’s been held in abeyance anyway by Punjab and Sindh. Secondly, talking about the introduction of the proportional representation system in place of the current first past the post.

Another big factor that has come to epitomise the divisiveness of our politics is Punjab. Pakistan is facing an existential challenge with regard to water! Too bad, because Kalabagh Dam, the most technically and economically feasible dam can’t be built as it is in the Punjab. Pakistan’s economy and its competitiveness is facing structural challenges due to sketchy power supply and an unaffordable power supply? Too bad. Kalabagh dam can’t be built to produce cheap energy. Politics in the provinces other than Punjab have often centered around Punjab being the bogeyman. Right or wrong is irrelevant. The fact is Punjab has been used for politics which has proven to be disastrous for all federating units and good for the oligarchs, big and small.

To break this narrative Punjab needs to be divided into smaller administrative units. Not only will this diminish the divisive politics that’s keeping the progress of our nation and its citizens in check it also will be the biggest blessing for all the people of Punjab. It is criminal for such a large sum of people to be administered by the Lahore based oligarchs. 58% development budget spent on flashy projects in Lahore can only happen in an unaccountable and unrepresentative system, namely an oligarchy. It’s high time the province of Punjab was divided into smaller administrative units.

However, for the oligarchy to be truly torn apart, proportional representation has to replace the current system. The most suitable system for Pakistan would be the mixed member proportional representation system that’s currently being used by democracies such as Germany and New Zealand. The process might sound complicated but is relatively simple. Each voter gets two ballots. One ballot is for voting for who they want representing their local constituency in parliament and the second ballot is for the political party they want to see in parliament, with political parties putting up a panel of candidates before hand that they would send to parliament on the seats they would get allocated after the first ballot winners were allocated theirs. The tabulation of the second ballots would determine the number of seats each party would get in parliament. Usually each party is required to pass a minimum threshold for it to be considered for seat allocation with Germany having a 5% minimum threshold for parties to exceed.

The practical impact of such a system is that a voter gets to vote for his or her favorite candidate for the constituency without worrying about whether they are wasting their vote. Or if they are beholden to a local patron or constrained by biradiri/ethnic loyalty they can vote for a local candidate standing from which ever party’s ticket on those lines yet vote for another party whose agenda they like and share on the second ballot. Having multiple options like this naturally spurs on greater voter participation. Finally, it forces parties to focus more on their manifestos and come up with good names on their panels for implementing such manifestos in order to garner votes.

Even though one can’t perfectly apply the PR system to the 2013 results as our 2013 elections reflect the current system and voter motivations but it does serve as an interesting illustration nevertheless. Under a Mixed Member Proportional representation system, the number of assembly seats (272) are simply doubled which makes it 544 in our case. Let’s see how the 2013 results would have played out under such a system.

Under our current system, the 2013 elections produced the following for the four largest political parties. PML-N 48% seats (130/272) with 32% of the votes; PPP 14% (37/272) of the seats with 15% of the votes, PTI 10% (26/272) of the seats with 17% of the votes and MQM 7% (19/272) of the seats with only 5% of the votes. Independents won 26 seats or 10% of the total seats as well.

Under a proportional representation system, the parties would be allocated seats according to the proportion of votes obtained which in 2013 would have translated into the following; PML-N 38% (207/544), PTI 20% (107/544), PPP 18% (96/544) and MQM 6% (34/544) with the remaining 100 seats or (18%) going to the independents and winning candidates of the parties who won from the first ballot but didn’t meet the 5% threshold for the 2nd ballot. How the seat allocation would work is that out of the 207 seats for PMLN, 130 MNAs would come from those candidates who won on the first ballot with the remaining 77 MNAs coming from the party panel of MNAs presented before the polling. Ditto for the other three parties.

This system is more representative, gets more and better point of views in parliament and leads to greater voter participation along with more emphasis of the voter on issues. This system ensures that every vote does indeed matter. It also lessens the impact of fraud and rigging on the makeup of parliament and consequent Government making efforts.

Pakistan is going through the worst of clientelism at a time when it is also engaging in an existential struggle against extremism and terrorism. Unless we don’t address our non functional polity that doesn’t deliver because it doesn’t need to we will remain vulnerable in our existential struggle against enemies’ home and abroad. Reform that dislodges an oligarchic status quo takes years and concerted efforts but it’s imperative this process begins now. History shows us that wars can help focus the mind and accelerate the process of reform. Why? Because to win the war and ensure sacrifices aren’t in vain you need to have systems that ensure the greatest chance of victory. States like Prussia, Japan and China emerged as modern states precisely because of this. At the same time interest groups wanting progressive change in the system must apply their pressure as well. The progressive movement in the United States took four decades to overcome the status quo clientelism that had dominated the politics of the United States for most of the 19th century and early 20th century. Overcoming such an oligarchic status quo will determine the future of 200 million Pakistanis. States that were able to overcome this in history are the countries with the best quality of life and economic power in todays world. States that haven’t are still struggling to achieve equitable prosperity and stability. In Pakistan somehow we find those fighting the war and wanting to win it and influential interest groups like our intelligentsia who should be looking to break the oligarchic status quo at loggerheads. Hopefully a vigorous debate on this oligarchy can help enough people to start seeing the forest instead of some trees.