Correcting Electoral Anomalies


Looking at the many external and internal factors contributing to proliferation of terrorism in Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world, lack of people participation in governance stands out as a primary reason. Pakistan is famous for having invented the Ayubian phrase “democracy suited to the genius of the people”, whereas the correct phrase should be “democracy suited to the genius of the rulers”. Ayub wanted to be a popular President, that could only be possible by an unfettered democracy. Unfortunately his associates in the bureaucracy fed him the requirements of a “guided democracy” as a means of furthering their own rule. Acting upon the genius (advice) of his associates, most of whom abandoned Ayub as soon as they calculated that crunch was imminent, he opted for “Basic Democracy” as suited to the genius of the people. Half a century later, one should not be surprised where the same slogan has re-surfaced and why (and from whom) it emanates. For over 50 years now we have muddled through various forms of people participation in government, none have really given our peoples the freedoms enshrined in our own religion that are the essence of democracy.

Any democracy that has indirect elections at any level is flawed, indirect elections is an open invitation for manipulation. Moreover money plays a decisive role in indirect elections. The net result is that whatever form of democracy we invent to suit the genius of the moment does not last beyond the moment. Invariably, this creates frustration about the system among the populace, setting in motion a chain of events leading to disorder and anarchy, and thus allows authoritarian rule to take over power in the country. This “doctrine of necessity” would always be acceptable on a temporary basis for a short period to ward off anarchy from our society, regretfully in Pakistan necessity has assumed “the doctrine of permanence”.

We may debate the form of governance and the operative system thereof till Kingdom Come, unless we correct the basic flaws in democracy, we are engaging in an extended exercise in frustration. The major obstacle to good governance is non-acceptance of the power of the individual vote by the “first past the post” system of electing our representatives. In a society where there are sectarian and ethnic issues, people participation is a dire necessity. Unfortunately our present system supports polarization along sectarian and ethnic lines and when this combines with another factor contributing to discord i.e. a struggle for the diminishing economic resources available, it force-multiplies the reasons for confrontation. Militancy as a means for self-protection easily converts into offensive action, and ultimately to terrorism.

People participation requires the majority vote must rule. As things stand today, an average of less than 40% of the voting populace goes out to vote nationally, the percentage reducing gradually over the years because of public apathy. In an average constituency, the elected candidate obtains only 25-30% of the votes cast, a majority of the populace he (or she) is representative of will not have voted for him (or her). The aspirant candidate targets ethnic and/or sectarian community to which he (or she) belongs and shuts out the rest in focusing on obtaining their vote. Once elected, this problem becomes even more acute, as only those have access to the fruits of governance who have voted for the elected representative. The citizen needs to tap into the institutions and resources of the State for his/her daily needs, being shut out leads to frustration and eventually further polarization. Where the population is evenly divided, citizen participation in the democratic process continues but with unassailable majority of one group in any constituency continuing because of this flawed electoral process, voter apathy leads to less and less participation in the democratic process. The voter perceives that his/her vote is of no consequence to the final result, this results in the percentage of the national vote being reduced every year. The majority thus gets to be ruled by a united minority, even when there is a “huge mandate” of the elected i.e. with less than 30% of the votes cast, the last Mian Nawaz Sharif regime controlled 70% of Parliamentarians. With the younger population getting their right of franchise for the first time, frustration at this state of affairs will lead to apathy and have tragic consequences for the nation. This potential disaster needs to be addressed on an emergency basis.

The voting pattern shows that very rarely any candidate manages an absolute majority i.e. more than 50% of the votes cast. If anyone of the candidates cannot manage more than 50% then it becomes obligatory for the State to ensure that there is a second round of elections where at least one of the candidates will get more than 50% and thus represents a majority of the voters in any constituency. To illustrate the example let us take for a model any urban constituency with a mix of ethnicity, also divided but along sectarian lines and tribal boundaries, etc. One candidate may get 30% of the vote along ethnic lines, another 27% of the vote may be given because of sectarian consideration, maybe 25% of the vote goes to another candidate along tribal lines, the balance 18% being a mixed vote. According to the “run-off” formula for “majority vote”, the candidate having 30% of the ethnic vote and the one with 27% sectarian vote will be pitted against each other to try and get a majority from the balance 43% of the vote that has gone to neither of the first two candidates. He (or she) has to convince the voter that did not vote for him (or her) in the first round, he (or she) will be the best person to represent the voter in the electorate and that he (or she) is a not a parochial and narrow-minded individual who will only look after his own particular constituents. Thus the candidacy has to reach across ethnic, sectarian and other considerations. It could also be that the majority of the voters simply do not like the candidate getting the maximum (but not the majority) votes in the first round, they will gang up in the second round and vote as a lesser evil for the candidate getting less votes in the first round. Once the person gets elected, he (or she) will have to continue the woo-ing of his constituents during the period of his (her) incumbency or the voter will vote the candidate out in the next election as a person who obtained the earlier vote on false premises. In every subsequent election the voting public will be far more perceptive for whom to vote for. With the competition becoming more intense, more and more voters will head for the voting booth. This will also lessen the influence of money, the candidate has presently to focus his (or her) budget on a small percentage of the electorate to get a majority, this will not be possible over a broader base of the electorate. As time goes on the ethnic, sectarian, etc factors may continue to matter, they will become lesser bogeys for democracy to contend with. It is only by voters crossing the divide of prejudice that real democracy becomes potent for good governance. That is the essence of democracy, to bind the electorate together and remove the divides polarizing them along specific lines.

For Pakistan, it is of critical importance that we get our electoral process right, not only for democratic norms but to terminate the divisive state that our society is in. As the economic pie diminishes and the competition for resources becomes more acute, the various divides assume emotional content, this leads to militancy. One has to only look at the banned religious outfits to see how militancy flourishing along sectarian lines has been converted to terrorism. People participation is a basic accountability that is a must to ensure that polarization of the populace does not occur, this participation has to be meaningful for ensuring good governance. This can only be achieved by having logical and pragmatic electoral process that negates the polarization of society in Pakistan.