Why Election Commission has repeatedly failed?

2017-10-25T23:37:00+05:00 Dr Farid A Malik

Since 1977 the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed ten times in holding free and fair elections. The Score card is a perfect zero in Urdu it is called nil bate nil (zero out of zero). In August 2014 Kaptan decided on a long march against the rigged elections of 2013 in which his party (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) was denied their mandate. The march was followed by an extended ‘Dharna’ (Sit-in) finally a commission was formed under the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) who pointed out serious irregularities in the conduct of the electoral exercise. Unfortunately not one of them has been corrected.

There are serious structural flaws both in the electoral process and the organization responsible for its implementation. Historically speaking, Ayub Khan’s controlled democracy (Basic Democracy) operated through the ‘Thana’ with the In-charge (SHO) being the kingpin. It was his duty to deliver the BD Member of his area to vote for the dictator. After the fall of the Khaki usurper a fresh start was made to hold the first election on the basis of one man one vote. The cohesive and manipulative mechanisms were not in place at that time. A split mandate was expected in both wings of the country. The outcome of the honest and uncontrolled ballot surprised everyone. Establishment and its political allies had to bite the dust. Sarkari Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami were the big losers. GHQ was unable to control the tide and Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) took control of what was left behind.

In the 1973 Constitution it was legislated that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) will come from the superior judiciary. Legal system in Pakistan suffers from serious administrative short comings the same were then carried to the ECP. Justices may be able to dispense justice but management is not their forte. In the conduct of an electoral exercise 90 to 95 percent of the task requires good administration not knowledge of law. Even the legal aspects of the commission suffer from the same flaws as our courts with delays being a norm.

In most cases the election tribunals are unable to decide the cases during the term of the assemblies. The outcome of the four test constituencies pointed out by PTI has been un-satisfactory. There were two constituencies in Lahore (NA-122, NA-125), one each in Lodhran and Sialkot. Technically speaking all four of the elected candidates should have gone home in disgrace never to be seen again but only one of them could be eliminated by the due process. The speaker is back conducting the proceedings of the Assembly, the Railways Minister is using the stay granted by the Supreme Court while the Foreign Minister survived on a technical relief given by the court.

The CEC is appointed by the leader of the house and opposition under him there are four judges each representing their province. The decision making is done by five senior judges while the Secretary of the Commission is required to carry out their orders. There is a cardinal principle in common law that everyone is innocent unless proven guilty which is being applied in the conduct of the biggest administrative challenge faced by the nation to elect credible leadership. While management is proactive, law is reactive and requires evidence to decide. The election process in the country is seriously flawed and needs a major overhaul. Judges should only preside over the election tribunals they have badly failed in delivering a credible, undisputed election in half a century.

The CEC must have vast administrative experience with understanding of ground realities at the union council and tehsil level. There can be no perceived innocence in fact it should be the other way around, ‘every candidate will cheat unless stopped’. In India the largest democracy of the world everyone accepts the electoral outcome as the commission is effective and neutral and mostly headed by administrators not judges as has been the case in Pakistan since 1977. Use of appropriate technology can also help. If Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are complicated ‘Biometric’ verification can be done. The reliance on local administrative machinery is another disaster. With their long stints in power both PML-N and PPP have total control over the provincial administration. Police in Punjab is a private force of the Sharifs. After ten failed elections the eleventh is round the corner, for it to be different a change in approach is required. Only a neutral, autonomous body headed by an administration guru can deliver free and fair elections in 2018 to put Pakistan back on track.

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