Myths about Electoral System and Processes

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Background

This document comprises certain myths prevailing in Pakistani society about elections, conduct of elections, role of ECP and possible rigging. Against this background, the emphasis is on testing these myths around elections with the help of facts, figures, and case stories. Some of the myths were found baseless, some were partially true in the past but do not hold valid anymore due to the many constitutional and legal developments. Following are the myths around elections in Pakistan, these days: 

Myth: There is no control on campaign spending

Truth:This is not totally true. Campaign financing has remained an issue of concern world over. Even in United States, there have been several attempts to regulate campaign finance through legislation. An important step in this direction was Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) 1970 that requires candidates to disclose sources of campaign contribution and campaign expenditures. In Pakistan, there are specific laws that limit campaign expenditure to Rs. 1.5 million for a candidate of National Assembly and Rs. 1 million for a candidate of provincial assembly. The election commission has made it mandatory for a candidate to open a separate account in a schedule bank and spend all money on election campaign through this bank account. A candidate has to give the number of this account in his nomination papers that he submits to election commission to contest the election.
Further, the “Section 42(3A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1976, read with Section 50 and Rule 30 of the Representation of the People (Conduct of Election) Rule, 1977, requires every candidate returned to the National Assembly and provincial assemblies to submit to the returning officer concerned, a return of election expenses within 10 days from the poll of an election”. Therefore, every successful candidate has to submit his return to election commission within 10 days of the poll, failing which their name will not be notified in official gazette. All other contesting candidates are required to file their returns of election expenditure within 30 days of publication of name of returned candidate in the official gazette.
According to Section 79 of Representation of Peoples Act, 1976, gratification in any form for voting or refraining from voting, being or refraining from being a candidate or withdrawing from contest, is an electoral offence. Section 3 of Political Parties Act, 1962 clearly states that Formation of foreign aided political party is prohibited. According to Article 6 (3) of Political Parties Order, 2002, Political Parties are prohibited to receive contribution from any foreign government, multi-national or domestically incorporated public or private company, firm, trade, or professional association. Federal Government may declare a party foreign funded and notify it in the official gazette and subsequently refer the case to the Supreme Court within 15 days of notification into official gazette. If the Supreme Court upholds declaration, the party will stand dissolved.

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Myth: A big landlord can influence election results

Truth:Yes, this might have been partially true in the past but not now. It is true that about 70 % of Pakistan’s population is living in rural areas. In spite of the growth of industries in Pakistan's cities, agriculture holds paramount importance for Pakistan’s economy, accounting for 25 percent of GDP, 60 percent of export earnings and 48% of employment. Due to failure of land reforms during 1960s and 1970s, the land distribution in Pakistan is highly unequal, as 5 % of large landholders possess 64 percent of total farmland. In this background, the landholders have been dominant in Pakistan's power structure. However, proper feudalism, with immense landholdings and tenants is not common in Pakistan today as it was in first two decades of the country's history. Mainly, in Pakistan, we find few large landholdings in Sindh or the southern belt of Punjab from where landholders/seat holders of shrines (gaddinashin) are elected.
First, during 1970 elections, feudals suffered serious loss when candidates of middle class defeated them. Further, feudalism is, overall, not a decisive factor; rather it is coupled with many other structural factors like feudal influence on local bureaucracy, the police, magistracy and the revenue department. Therefore, these state institutions help landholders to influence the results of elections. Nevertheless, with rapid urbanization, education and improvements in rule of law, the landholders’ power is diminishing and only a few of the feudal class manage to win in general elections. It is the time when candidate like Jamshed Dasti are able to defeat the feudal sardars, khans and nawabs of one of those areas, which were once recognized as feudal stronghold.

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Myth: Votes are casted on the basis of biradari (caste system) instead of real issues

Truth:This myth is not true on the whole in case of voting behavior of people of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan do not have much experience in elections. The first 23 years of Pakistan were without elections while from 1970 to 2010 nation has experienced 4 regimes of dictatorship. Frequent military interventions hindered the development of a country. The election system has been changing since independence. Hence, the political system of Pakistan is still in its experimental stage. Political behavior is a central part of politics of any political system. The survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan, in 2008 and other Studies allied with voting behavior reported that voters can be classified into seven most important types by their inspiration to vote: Party Loyal, Morality Seeking Voters, supporter Seeking Voters, Legislation Minded Voters, advance Seeking Voters, Biradari (Caste System) Bound, and disbeliever Voters.
Therefore, to say that in Pakistan, people overall vote on biradri basis is totally mistaken. In fact, there are two faces of this reality. On the one hand, Pakistani society has been divided into whirlpool of feudalism, sardari pattern, tribal Malik and Biradaries system, religious factions, ethnicity, class structure, pressure and interest groups, traditionalists and modernists etc. Therefore, in pursuit of their own interests and ideological considerations they support their respective political parties. Further, such behavior has accelerated and strengthened during the era of military dictatorship with weak political ideology and political will.
On the other hand, there have been many popular slogans used by respective political parties to attract voters. In this way, the slogans like “Roti, Kapara or Makan Vote” (“Bread, clothing and house vote”) led by Pakistan People’s Party; conservative and “Non-feudal and Pro-Capital Economy” of Muslim Leagues; Religious Vote backed by all Pakistani religious parties; the so-called Moderate Vote claimed by MQM and ANP etc; and now recent slogan of change coined by PTI by the name of Naya Pakistan, have also been instrumental in shaping people’s voting behavior. In addition, media and especially electronic and social media have now become agent of change in people’s opinion and voting trend. Partiality or bias of media cannot be overlooked.
However, media is playing its role by highlighting and educating about the ethics of electioneering, rights, and duties of voters, past tradition of casting vote etc. Now political parties have to launch their election manifestoes based on priorities and policy guides to address all the political and social problems of the Pakistani society, particularly emerging serious energy crisis, ever-rising inflation, nose-diving economy, unemployment, dearth of health facilities, floods and volatile security situation, etc. Therefore, it can be understood that in Pakistan people do not vote just on biradri (Caste System) basis, but on different factors unique to social political and economic conditions of the country.

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Myth: Multi-party system will always result in hung parliament that will promote “political bargaining”

Truth:This myth is not true, as far as the experiences of elections for the last two decades are concerned in country. Although Pakistan has to observe this phenomenon, repeatedly, in different general elections, however, there were many instances when there emerged single political party to form successful government in Pakistan. Actually, the most common criticism of multi-party system is based on forming government on give and take formula. It is because, in multi-party system, there are chances that one party may not win the majority of seats and that the legislature might have to be ruled by a coalition of major and minor parties.
Resultantly, such multiparty coalitions may be quite weak, and often remains at edge of breaking apart due to policy differences or other issues between the parties. There are many arguments that provide the different picture. First, multi-party systems are working in world democracies. Many countries of Europe and Asia are also experiencing multi-party system such as Germany, Italy, Norway, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, Japan, and Pakistan etc. In Germany, with multi-party system, reasonably stable governments and successful coalitions introduced an effective system of checks and balances on the governments that also encouraged the culture of political moderation. However, in Italy, coalition governments have not been so successful and many have lasted less than one year. In neighboring India, multiparty system has been successful. In the case of Pakistan, from 1988 to 2013, there has always been coalition government except in 1997, when PML-N got overwhelming majority to form government alone. However, during 2002, 2008, and 2013 elections, coalition governments were formed at central level. It is fact that in order to make ruling coalition intact, incentives are offered by the main political party.
These coalitions usually lasted many years, and even in some cases, for whole tenure of governments. Although, many critics argue that the coalition survived on political bargaining, however, even if it is held true, it should be remembered that political bargaining is very much a part of the political process. In multi-party system, parties taking part in elections have incorporated different objectives and policy guides in their manifestoes. Different parties could have advantageous or effective policies to be implemented for the benefit of the country. However, in elections they might not have received enough mandate to implement their manifestoes.
Therefore, in forming coalition government, the parties could be in position to bargain on their specific objective. In this way, political bargaining may result fruitful for the country. Moreover, the coalition partners also are in a position to convince the major party on abstaining from certain unpopular policy decisions. In Pakistan, the previous coalition government lead by PPPP, many times reversed decisions on increasing prices of petroleum, natural gas and electricity, implementation of value added tax, and local government ordinance (Sindh).

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Myth: My one vote cannot make a difference

Truth:This myth is totally wrong. Because, the very idea of electoral democracy stipulates that every single vote counts. For example, if all eligible voters of a given constituency think that their vote do not count, then the idea of elections would be spoiled. In addition, if in a given constituency, majority thinks this way, then the decision of minority will prevail over majority. Although world history is full of examples, where single vote counted and brought significant changes.
In USA, the very famous election results were the results of Florida State in 2000 presidential elections in which George W. Bush won the state by a margin of 537 votes and, therefore, became president of USA. Similarly, by withholding your vote, you are committing a mistake by not contributing to a high-quality candidate to win the election and, therefore, are responsible for the mistakes of whoever wins. However, since it matters to great extent who you vote for, because choosing the best candidate is in your hand on equal suffrage and not on the sole prerogative of those who vote for supposed bad options. Recognizing the importance of single vote, there is narrated a case study of an inspiring gentleman from USA who claimed to have voted in every election since 1954. Several years ago, a knee surgery coincided with a minor primary election date, putting his lifelong streak at risk.
Not to be hindered by physical condition, medical professionals, or that he was wearing only a hospital gown, he informed the doctor that he would like to take a leisurely walk in the corridor. Upon receiving approval, he made a mad dash to the parking lot where his wife was waiting with the getaway car. They quickly drove to the polling location where they could vote and returned to the hospital before anyone noticed. And, who did that person vote for? Well, that is not the point.

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Myth: It would be a bloody election with no clear winner. No one will accept the election results that would eventually provide army a chance to take over

Truth:This myth is based on the law & order situation in Pakistan and is partially true. It is because the elections are going to be held at the time, when law & order situation in country is not good. There are issues of terrorism, suicide bombings, and sectarian killings. In this background, the bomb attacks on political rallies and corner meetings in Khyber Pakhtunkhua, Sindh, and Balochistan resulted into killings of hundreds of civilians, workers, and politicians. This grim law & order situation has produced fear among civilians that there could be more attacks on the Election Day resulting into more civilian casualties.
To control the possible bloodshed, Election Commission of Pakistan deployed Army to remain on stand-by to act as quick response force. According to plan, seven security personnel are being deployed at very sensitive polling stations, along with security officers one day before the Election Day throughout the country. Similarly, the surveys conducted by Gallup-Pakistan, Herald in partnership with SDPI, and IRI have identified that there are likely chances of increasing turnout in May-2013 elections. If it is held true, then there are also chances of one political party to get majority seats at center.
However, if no single party takes majority seats, then there a coalition government at federal level is likely. The previous two tenures (one under military dictator and other democratic government), were coalition governments and these also completed their tenures. The hitherto historic 18th and 19th amendments to constitution are also achievements of coalition government with the support of opposition parties. Therefore, with the implementation of charter of democracy, enactment of 18th amendment to constitution, independence of robust judiciary, and development of media and civil society and non-acceptance of military government among people of country, Army’s chance to take over the country has become the part of past.

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Myth: Voting system in Pakistan is vulnerable to fraud

Truth:Gone are the days when the country witnessed the rigged elections. It has been a culture in Pakistan that losing political parties and candidates raised voices about poll rigging in the country and this was true to some extent. However, this is not the case now with the enactment of 18th amendment to 1973 constitution, which has granted the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) more autonomy about determining its budget, administrative management, and legal and procedural decision-making. In the previous tenures, the so-called Pakistani establishment has been supposedly manipulating the ECP in collusion with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to support one party or the other in elections.
Therefore, with the new reforms introduced in 18th amendment, instead of being a handpicked person for the job, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is a widely-respected veteran of the Supreme Court, and appointed with consensus amongst political parties. Similarly, the CEC does not enjoy veto power over four other election commissioners, who are also retired justices of higher courts, allowing for a majority rule on any disputes. Further, now according to international best practices, ECP allows various national, international watchdogs to observe the process of elections in Pakistan.
Among these agencies, Gender Concerns International, European Union Election Observation Mission, Women and Politics in Asia Forum; Democracy International (US Observation Mission); and Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), reported that 2008 general elections, even though, held with several shortcomings as per the international best practices, generally appeared democratic and were free and fair. These observation missions have also suggested ECP many recommendations for the future elections. In the historic 18th amendment, these recommendations have been adopted to make elections free, fair, transparent, and independent of fraud.

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Myth: One person can cast multiple votes

Truth:It is not true now in Pakistan. Earlier, in Pakistan, it has been practiced that one person can be registered and cast vote on multiple polling stations in single constituencies. However, with updated computerized record of National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), casting multiple votes has become impossible. For elections 2013, under article 3(sub section 4) of The Electoral Rolls Act, 1974, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) with the help of National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) has developed an elaborate computerized electoral roll, with each citizen’s name listed with his or her 10 fingerprints and photograph (exceptions are made for women who cover their faces).
In addition, such computerized listing of voters not only removes multiple entries on single identity card but has also been published to get public feedback, inquiry, possible correction, objection, and transparency. Similarly, now ECP with the help of NADRA has provided facility to 86.1 million registered voters to find out his voter number, polling station, or booth, and place by sending his Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) number in a text message to 8300. Moreover, no citizen will be authorized to cast his vote without producing a CNIC (which is nearly impossible to copy with its 20 hidden security features).
The returning officer, his staff, and polling agents will then be able to verify the identity of the voter, providing yet another measure to counter electoral fraud. In such changes in voter procedure, it is impossible for any voter to cast multiple votes.

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Myth: Someone will find out whom I voted for

Truth:It is absolutely not true. From all human rights’ instruments, secrecy of ballot is required by democratic states to consider it as essential and as the best practice to follow. Therefore, it is highly desirable that during elections, there must be mechanism to keep secret the marked ballot of a specific voter during poll time and until counting. However, this prohibition does not apply to a person legally authorized to assist a blind voter or a voter requiring assistance due to physical infirmity.
In this background, in Pakistan, ECP has the responsibility given by constitution to ensure adequate facilities of security, space, and time necessary to cast vote in secrecy. Article 226 of 1973 constitution provides that all elections other than elections of prime minister and chief minister, held under constitution of Pakistan, will be through secret ballot. Furthermore, article 28 of Peoples Representation Act, 1976 stipulates that: “An election under this Act shall be decided by secret ballot and, subject to the provisions of section 29 every elector shall cast his vote by inserting in accordance with the provisions of this Act, in the ballot box, a ballot paper in the prescribed form”.
By following this article, election commission provides voters the facility to cast their votes in absolute secrecy and voter himself insert folded ballot in ballot box. The ballot box is opened at the end of polling time in the presence of polling agents. However, ballot paper does not carry the identification mark of voter on it, therefore, it is impossible to determine that which voter casted vote to whom.

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Myth: I am a government servant. A government servant cannot have political affiliation or loyalties. I should not vote

Truth:This myth is wrong. A person in the service of Pakistan or holding a public office can vote in any elections held in the country. In addition, the government servant is also given facility to cast their votes through postal ballot paper if he/she wishes to cast their vote at the constituency of their hometown. However, there are certain provisions in Government Servant Conduct Rules 1964, that prohibit government servants to take part in elections campaign and politics actively, but that do not restrict their right to vote.
Article 24 (3), stipulates that: “No Government servant shall canvass or otherwise interfere or use his influence in connection with or take part in any election to a legislative body, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere: Provided that a Government servant who is qualified to vote at such election may exercise his right to vote; but if he does so, he shall give no indication of the manner in which he proposes to vote or has voted”. Therefore, any government servant can cast his/her vote either directly on polling station or through postal ballot if s/he is stationed outside his/her constituency or s/he is assigned duties in elections as polling staff, security and assistance.

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Myth: Large scale electoral rigging is possible under our political system

Truth:This myth held true in past, but now with many constitutional and legal reforms in political and election process and with the development of robust media in Pakistan, there are no chances of large-scale electoral rigging. Several mainstream political parties in Pakistan pledged, in famous ‘charter of democracy’, to the establishment of independent election commission to hold free, fair, and transparent elections according to international best practices.
Accordingly, the last coalition government lead by PPPP in close coordination with opposition parties implemented many of the postulates of charter through historic 18th amendment in the constitution. In this amendment, there are provisions to conduct free, fair, and transparent elections with equal opportunities for all. Furthermore, constitution grants the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) more autonomy on determining its budget, administrative management, and legal and procedural decision-making. Based on constitutional provision, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), and other four provincial members are a widely respected veteran of the judiciary, and appointed with consensus amongst political parties.
Similarly, care taker governments in federal and four provinces is also chosen constitutionally; while earlier, the practice of forming caretaker government were based on loyalty to one party or the other or on wishes of Pakistani establishment. Further, the election commission has been given more autonomy to fully implement the elections laws of Pakistan independent of any pressure from any pillar, institution, and personality of the state. Moreover, separate, independent, and robust Judiciary is also helping election commission to ensure the implementation of election laws in country. In addition, particularly in this decade, the independent electronic media is playing the most significant contribution through identifying the gaps in holding free, fair, and transparent elections. Media is reporting every significant development during the conduct of elections. With all these developments and some others, there are no chances of large scale rigging in election in Pakistan.

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