No one can deny the importance of fair and free elections held periodically to fill in the seats at various tiers of parliamentary democracy. There are at least eight functions of
elections in any democratic set up
1. Leadership Funnel: Firstly, they are an institutional mechanism to elect the ruling elite in a country run under democracy. Elections enable voters to select leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office.
2. Filtering Device: Secondly, they serve as the filtering device for rejecting those who do not come up to the expectations of the popular electorate for any reason.
3. Succession Mechanism: Thirdly, regular and periodic, free and fair elections solve the problem of peaceful succession in leadership and serve to legitimize the acts of those who wield power,
4. System’s Continuity: Fourthly, elections are the constitutional means of giving legitimacy to the system itself and are the ultimate guarantor of the continuity of the democracy in the country. Countries where elections are not held, or conducted irregularly and in worst case, are rigged cannot be called a democracy irrespective of the fact whether their ruling elite professes it to be so
5. Political Socialisation: Fifthly, being a highly competitive process, elections force the candidates and the parties to explain to the public their agendas for the betterment of the country. The ensuing debates serve as forums for the discussion of public issues which provide political education for citizens and ensure the responsiveness of democratic governments to the will of the people.
6. People Empowerment: Sixthly, elections are the greatest tool of people empowerment, confirming the worth and dignity of individual citizens as human beings. Right to vote not only reinforces their self-esteem and self-respect but also gives people an opportunity to have their say in choosing those who will decide their destiny. Even those who do not vote are asserting their right of rejecting the system and expressing their desire to change it for the better.
7. National Catharsis: Seventhly, they are the means of public catharsis of a country by providing an opportunity to the citizens to express the nationalistic feelings and reinforce their patriotism towards the state and the vision it has for them. Election campaign in any country is an event for the people to show their love and loyalties towards their national symbols, heroes, past glory or future promise. By arousing emotions and channelling them toward collective future, they unite the diverse nationalities into a nation.
8. Economic Boost: Lastly, during the elections, the candidates and their supports bring out their hidden wealth which they would not have spent so generously in normal times. This massive injection of cash in the mainstream national economy kick-starts for the economic activities on the one hand and provide opportunities to millions of those poor people who manufacture and market the election material or provide other type of assistance to the candidates to earn extra money during these 5/6 months of election campaign
However, to ensure that the elections are free and fair and contribute to better participation of the citizens in electoral practices, reduce corruption and strengthen democracy, there is a need for a comprehensive Legal/Regulatory Framework as well as impartial conduct for which the following proposals are worth consideration
I. Independent and powerful Election Commission: Free and fair elections in an open and competitive political environment provide an important mechanism for the election of those who hold high moral and ethical standards. For this there is a need for setting up an authoritative and independents electoral commission composed of members drawn from broad spectrum of society responsible for the conduct of the whole election process.
II. Code of Conduct: Election Commission in consultation with the stakeholders should formulate and implement a comprehensive code of conduct for the candidates and the political parties. Specifically, it should introduce reforms that regulate party financing/ donations, require disclosure of funds and provide equal playing conditions for all.
III. Civil Society Oversight: Accurate and timely disclosure of elections results at all levels of government provides for the
transparency of the election process, in particular during counting and tabulating of the results to ensure full accountability. Civil Society Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can play an important role in this respect by creating awareness among the electorate the way candidates/ elected officials should properly behave.
IV. Competent Election Tribunals: Need for establishment of independent, autonomous and impartial election tribunals cannot be overemphasized for a transparent election process. Without jeopardizing the right of the contestants to a fair hearing, it should ensure that the decisions are announced with the stipulated time
V. NOTA Option: To ensure that people of high moral and ethical values are chosen as people’s representatives Election Commission should the option of “None of the Above” (NOTA) in the ballot paper. It will allow the voters not to vote for any of the candidates while maintaining their right of secrecy. If, in any extreme case, the number of votes against NOTA is more than the number of votes secured by the candidates or MOTA votes are higher than a certain percentage, there should be new elections in
that constituency. However, when conducting re-elections in that constituency, the NOTA option may be deleted to avoid a series of re-elections. The candidates who lose to NOTA should not be allowed to contest elections for a defined period of time (for example, 5 years). NOTA can compel political parties to nominate a sound candidate and thus can influence more citizens to articipate in voting resulting in the maturing of democracy.
VI. No Multiple Seat Contest: Presently a candidate can stand for elections from any number of seats he/she wants to
contest in a general election at federal or provincial level. Within 30 days, he has to intimate ECP which seat he wants to retain; rest are declared vacant and re-election ordered. It is sheer wastage of resources and time as well as shows the lack of confidence of the person. One of the electoral reforms should be withdrawal of this option
VII.Executive to Conduct
Elections: It is an administrative task and can be handled by those with knowledge and experience of handling such complex
assignments. Besides, nominating an ex-judge as the head of the Election Commission jeopardises the impartiality of the judiciary as it becomes very difficult for judges hearing election petitions to pass verdict against their ex-judge for irregularities in the elections. However, election tribunals can be headed by the ex-judges.
VIII. Voting Rights for Expatriates: Those who have left the country for any reason, settled abroad and have obtained foreign
nationalities or even dual nationalities have no right to interfere in the elections.
IX. Elections Expenditure Limits: There should be no limit on expenditure a candidate can incur for elections but it must be declared-at least he will not tell lies and file bogus statements. Secondly, income tax people could tax him accordingly and thirdly, it will bring out hidden wealth in the open benefitting millions of poor people who provide services in the elections. Normally rich people do not pay a pie to the poor but are willing to spend lavishly on marriages and elections
X. Compulsory Intra-Party Elections: Presently, intra party elections are mandatory for continuous registration of a political party with the Election Commission of Pakistan but it is generally a sham exercise. Any party desirous of fielding its candidates in the general elections must hold intra party election 06 months before the general elections are due and only those allowed to contest general elections who have been elected as office holder (any office) within the party as a result of these intra-party elections-obviously a person who cannot win an office within his party is not fit to contest general election.
XI. Abolition of Reserved Seats: Time has come to abolish the seats reserved for women in phases. For example, in 2023 elections, each party must nominate at least one-tenth of their candidates from women; seats reserved for women in different legislatures
be reduced to the extent of successful women. In 2028 elections, parties to nominate at least 20% women candidates and so till we have at least 33% women lawmakers in the assemblies. Same should be done with the seats reserved for technocrats and for the minorities.