The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has made it clear that all parties will have to apply to it afresh to get their election symbols, and for that they will have to submit accounts and provide certificates of intra-party elections. The ECP is doing so because it is a legal obligation under the Political Parties Order 2002, which made both a condition of their registration. Though no deadline has been set by the ECP in the press release it issued on Friday, the general elections fall due next year. Previous experience has shown that intra-party elections are considered an irksome formality by the parties themselves. The normal run of party is of a political platform for an individual, or if the individual has passed away, for his heirs. An intra-party election is risky. Another problem experienced by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is that elections involving members are prolonged affairs.  The PTI is polling all its members, not conducting a whitewash for the ECP and has only completed its polls in Islamabad, has yet to finish them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and has yet to start them in Punjab or Sindh. As the ECP has not set a deadline, the PTI should complete its process in time to qualify for a symbol, which is the primary method of identifying a candidate as belonging to a particular party.

The ritual nature of intraparty elections should not disguise the fact that they represent a great advance on the previous practice of making leadership decisions behind closed doors. This leads to the practice of arbitrary award of tickets, and a dictatorial, non-consensual, approach towards governance. Other factors may lead to this, but this undemocratic approach to governance is what has made governments so vulnerable to military takeovers, as the official machinery readily accepts a dictatorial ruler. The same applies to their maintaining of accounts. There may be many objections made, such as how sketchy those accounts are, but that fact is that they are being maintained, as opposed to the previous practice of maintaining them at best as an internal document circulated only among senior office-bearers. Now it is supposed to be a public document.

It is perhaps time to go to the next level, by prescribing standards for both elections and keeping accounts, so that the exercise is made meaningful and is not merely a throwing of dust into the eyes of the ECP.