THE Election Commission of Pakistan has decided to provide transportation to voters during a by-election in Multan scheduled for today. This is apparently a first in the country’s history and as an EC official told this paper, the commission plans to provide transportation to all voters in the upcoming general elections. The apparent reason behind this decision is that the EC has barred candidates from themselves providing transport facilities to voters. While an independent, proactive Election Commission is essential for the success of the democratic project in Pakistan, it must be kept in mind that electoral reforms must be realistic and achievable. What is more, the EC needs to prioritise reforms, perhaps starting with solutions that could eliminate electoral malpractices.
Many questions arise about the EC’s above-mentioned move. For instance, will providing conveyance to every voter who wants to vote on election day be logistically possible, considering the hundreds of national and provincial assembly seats that are up for grabs? This is, by all estimates, a Herculean proposition. Also, if the EC is preventing candidates from transporting voters, especially in the country’s remote areas, does this not amount to disenfranchising voters? Allegations of favouritism may also crop up if one candidate’s supporters are given access to transport while those of another are denied the privilege. Perhaps the EC should try something more manageable, such as increasing the number of polling stations in each constituency. Though the move announced may be well-intentioned, what is actually needed is a clearer, more transparent electoral system that not only minimises the chance of fraud but also ensures that all voters have equal access to polling stations and that they are free to exercise their right to adult franchise without the fear of duress or violence. Campaign finance reform is another area that needs careful attention, keeping in mind the realities on the ground. Pakistan’s electoral history is replete with incidents that make a solid case for top-down reform. But changes must be incremental. Anything drastic, such as the Election Commission getting into the business of transporting voters, must be seriously reviewed for its practicality.