Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently commented upon drastically changing two election procedures. Firstly, he seems determined to change the structure of the Senate elections. PTI in October introduced the Election (Amendment) Act, 2020 which proposes a larger set of electoral reforms, including an overhaul change in the electoral process of electing senators, seeking to end the use of secret ballots in the elections for the upper chamber of parliament. Building on the same bill, PM Khan said that the government had decided to move a constitutional amendment in the parliament to elect new senators through ‘show of hands’ instead of a secret ballot. The second suggestion by PM Khan is more ambitious—he wants to introduce e-voting and voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.

The first initiative by the government is not a new or unilateral sentiment—there have been deliberations of changing Senate procedure for years. There was particular uproar in the 2018 Senate elections, where many instances of surprising switches across the aisle were noted. The outrage seemed bipartisan—both PTI and PML-N claimed foul play and called for investigation into vote-purchase and horse-trading allegations.

Both steps are not unreasonable, yet come with their own challenges. The extent of vote switching in the last Senate elections that came about because of horse-trading, or because of internal party disputes or weak candidates is disputed. While having open elections will clearly bring about more transparency, they bring into question the point of having elections in the first place if all will vote according to the party line. With the second step, the government will have to tread extremely cautiously. E-voting across the world has proven to be vulnerable to online attacks—technologically advanced countries have rolled back online voting, even with iron-clad security. While the reasoning behind introducing e-voting is democratic, the process towards better online security will be a long one, and should not be steamrolled for convenience.