It seems that genuine electoral reforms for the next general elections – currently scheduled for 2018 - are not a priority for any of the three most powerful parliamentary parties in the country. This is evident from PPP Co-Chairperson and former President Asif Ali Zardari’s jaded response to the agreement between PML-N and PTI to form a judicial commission to probe the alleged mass rigging in the May 2013 general elections. Wrapped in token acknowledgments of the ‘will’ and the ‘wisdom’ of the ‘people’, Mr. Zardari’s statement deemed the judicial commission to be “too little too late”, and urged the multi-party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) - formed nine months ago with the instructions to complete its work in three months - to expedite its recommendations to the Parliament.
There is some progress of course. The 33-member multi-party PCER and its 11-member sub-committee have already met more than ten times each and have been briefed by several bureaucrats concerned. The two committees have considered various legislative proposals to make the election process more transparent, including improvement of electoral rolls, election administration, biometric verification of voters, and electronic voting.
However, despite its apparent commitment, the Committee is pursuing only one-third of its job. According to the official notification, its mandate is to make recommendations to the Parliament “to ensure free, fair and transparent elections”. In reality, it is focused exclusively on making elections ‘transparent’ with no consideration for the requirements of a ‘free’ and ‘fair’ election.
Making the electoral process ‘transparent’ does not necessarily require one to travel beyond the existing electoral framework, thereby allowing the old powers to keep playing their old games with new sticks. However, holding a free and fair election also entails considerations of the outcome: the composition and powers of the elected representatives. For example, is it fair for a free citizen to cast a vote for a representative who would, if elected, have no power to legislate for you, as is the case with voters from Tribal Areas? Or is it fair for representatives from Punjab to have the power to form and run the central government independent of the other federating units? Is it fair for your favorite candidate to be qualified on the ground that he could not recite dua-e-qanoot? Is it fair for the President to have the power to completely ignore a free citizen’s vote and impose direct taxes on a class she belongs to?
Without considering questions of freedom and fairness, the current parliament will not achieve any meaningful ‘broad based electoral reforms’ by the next general elections.