Need for electoral reforms

Almost all elections and even by-polls in the history of Pakistan are faced with rigging allegations and mismanagement. This severely undermines democracy in the country and takes away the citizen’s right to choose the government of their choice.

Faced with a string of losses in the by-elections, the PTI government has called for electoral reforms and wants to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the country, saying it is the only way to ensure holding free and fair elections. The opposition seems in no mood and has rebuffed the prime minister’s suggestion completely. The PML-N notably has rebuked the premier for bringing reforms on his own terms and is escaping from the electoral reforms process.

Free, fair and transparent elections are the essence of democracy as they allow people to elect the political leaders of their choice.  But there are standards which must be ensured before elections are termed free and fair. This is seldom seen in the country as candidates do not accept voting results and there is no smooth transition of power.

The PTI government has invited the opposition to discuss electoral reforms. This initiative must have all parties on board as they have a shared grievance after every election.  This will be a long and complicated process as it requires thousands of voting machines and training of electoral staff. However, it is imperative that we start the process for electoral reforms before we shift to technology-based initiatives.

India introduced electronic voting in 1990s in a phased manner and now they have been used in all general and state assembly elections. Even if citizens elect populist leaders like Modi, no one raises doubts over the voting system and alleges voter fraud. Meanwhile, in Pakistan there are rigging allegations that take years to resolve and leaves a blotch on the fragile democratic process.

Pakistan may not be able to fully transition towards electronic voting by the next general elections. It would be a huge logistical challenge but the intention of the government to start the process must be appreciated. Opposition parties must set aside their differences and work on electoral reforms or else we would see a repeat of what we witness after every tainted election.