Electoral reform

Updated 20 Nov 2020

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PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has announced that his government intends to pursue electoral reforms in order to ensure that in future elections are not disputed and winners and losers both accept the result. In this respect, he has said he plans to introduce electronic voting for citizens including those residing overseas.

In addition, he has voiced a strong preference to have Senate elections by show of hands instead of the secret ballot that is currently the method. The prime minister correctly diagnosed that secret balloting is facilitating corruption and vote-buying, and he reminded the people that his party had expelled parliamentarians from its ranks who had been identified as having sold their vote. However, the prime minister hoped that the opposition would cooperate with the government in legislating these reforms as the government did not have the required parliamentary numbers to push them through.

But the opposition has rejected these government proposals and has said it would bring its own set of proposals for a comprehensive reform of the electoral process. Opposition leaders explained that while they will not engage with the government as a matter of principle, they will continue to proceed with their parliamentary duties as well as their work in the committees.

It is good that both sides acknowledge the need for electoral reform. But it is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that the bedrock of the democratic system — elections — remains disputed. Today, we have plunged to depths where it is near-impossible to visualise political opponents accepting any form of electoral results. This bodes ill for the system as the Azad Kashmir elections are due shortly. In time, the country also has to conduct local body polls.

The general elections are less than three years away. Reform takes time. The parties have wasted years in arguing about reform and blaming each other for sabotaging them instead of sitting down together and hammering out the requisite legislation. Things have come to such a pass that the prevailing polarisation makes it very difficult to debate and carry out poll reform.

This is unfortunate. The government and the opposition may talk about their own set of proposals but these will not amount to much unless there is a broad consensus between both sides. In the absence of such consensus, and the urgency to make it happen, statements like the ones given by the prime minister and opposition leaders are more political and less substantive.

This is why it is critical that senior people in parliament engage in some quiet discussion to forge a basic minimum agreement on electoral reforms. Some reform is better than none. It is the responsibility of the political leadership to establish the electoral rules of the game before we head towards a fresh round of electioneering. The politicians owe this to themselves, and to the nation.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2020