Real Change – Syed Moazzam Hai

In our unceasing season of political discord and distrust electoral reforms come as the quasi single point of agreement among the sparring political parties – though they deeply differ on the degree and definition of such reforms. The focus of debate for such electoral reforms has been on the electoral process ranging from the funny and flimsy candidate scrutiny, bogus vote balloting and counting to dubious result announcements and the resultant election tribunals renowned for their persistent lethargy.

The debate disappointingly misses out the issue of the type of electoral process in the country. Being a former colony of the UK we have been obediently content with the single winner voting system. Such an infatuation is no surprise with the well below average intellectual capacities of our corrupt and incompetent ruling elite which in this 21st century is still hell-bent on ‘managing’ a mega city like Karachi with the British -era deputy commissioner system and reaps ethnic sympathies on opposing the formation of new provinces.

Notwithstanding the self-centred myopia of our so-called political elite, Pakistan – a country divided through myriad layers of ethnic and community divisions and still suffering through a feudal and tribal culture – deserves s proportional representation electoral system which simply means an election system where political parties get the number of seats in proportion with the percentage of votes in the election.

In our prevalent system only the votes bagged by the winning candidate in a constituency matter while the rest hold no value. This is an inherent defect of this system, directly negating the basic concept of democracy that values the opinion of every citizen of the republic. For example in a constituency of around 300,000 votes approximately 60 percent votes are cast which means around 180,000 out of which a candidate secures say around 80,000 votes and wins while the 100,000 or so votes not cast in his/her favour bite the dust and have no value in the end.

In a proportional representation system every vote holds equal value. A party that wins 30 percent of the votes get 30 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament which means all votes are important while deciding the result of an election.

In Pakistan there’s a long list of factors that necessitate the use of the proportional electoral system. It would save us from the rule of the minority, the majority the one who achieves a margin of more votes in the number of constituencies. In many constituencies that margin of votes is as close to a few hundreds or thousands thus effectively denying any value to voters whose candidates lose by a minor fraction of votes.

In 2013, 55 percent votes were polled and the PML-N was shown by the ECP to have gained 32.77 percent of the votes pronounced as cast thus gaining 126 general seats. The PPP gained 15.23 percent votes while the PTI got 16.92 percent votes. However, the PPP ‘emerged’ as the second largest party and won the privilege of the opposition leader in the house. We are not delving into the subject of rigging here or the current government’s interior minister’s statement that around 60,000 to 70,000 votes in each constituency were unverifiable.

We need a proportional representation electoral system in Pakistan in which people can vote for parties and not influential individuals who keep changing their loyalties. This system could begin unshackling political parties from the stifling influence of winnable candidates. Furthermore it would broaden the representative share of different political parties in different provinces and regions.

For example, if we keep the post-2013 elections in mind then the PPP would have been able to claim some more seats in Punjab and save itself from being increasingly labelled as rural Sindh’s party, the PML-N would have been able to shrug off the tag of being a Punjab party by gaining more seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the PTI would have been able to secure a good number of seats not only in Punjab but also in Sindh and the MQM would have gained more seats in Sindh and may also have won some seats in Punjab besides Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. So the proportional representation system could be favourable for nearly all major political parties. This system would also ultimately strengthen the federation and broaden the base of political parties, most of which face the fate of becoming regional/ethnic groups.

Proportional representation should be introduced for national and provincial assemblies while for local bodies elections individuals should also be allowed to contest individually or as a group of individuals because local bodies representatives and not parliamentarians are supposed to be working for municipal and local affairs. This system would enable political parties to bring to assemblies educated and honest people with expertise in different fields who otherwise can never dare venture close to parliament.