Direct Election Reforms Needed in Local Government Polls

Source: dawn.com

Finally, the much-promised local government elections have been held all over Pakistan. The result of these elections is important for pointing out a clear discrepancy in the electoral system. Everyone has been looking at the party tally as in the case of the general elections, but it is at this level that the irony of this system reveals itself so strongly. The citizens of Pakistan cannot even elect their mayors directly, and it is up to their Union Councilors to elect the candidate nominated by their party.

While this form of election is based on the model of the British parliamentary system, direct election reforms for local government have been introduced even in Great Britain. It only makes sense that people have a say in at least the immediate leadership of their town, instead of a majority party decision enforced on them like an insult.

People do deserve a chance to directly elect the person responsible for making executive decisions governing their political jurisdiction. I would go on to argue that the same should be true for the election of legislative representatives and the head of provinces and the federal government. This is why the Presidential system makes more sense in terms of electoral rules and division of power to some people.

However, on the other hand, many people argue that the indirect election makes the election of more intellectual members possible. For a country where the majority of voters agree on establishing an Islamic Republic and would actively oppose a secular movement, this would seem like a good choice. However, indirect election of the mayor does not even make any sense in the current scenario and it is certainly not good for democracy.

The indirect election is primarily an instrument of establishing the authority and control of the party leadership, which almost always dictates votes in the legislature. This form of legislative election kills the freedom of the individual legislator, and in the case of executive election, it becomes an extension of the control of the party leadership in dispensing and spending local government funds.

It is important to understand that executive positions are very individual-oriented. It is probably not very different to evaluating a candidate for a job position. I would argue the same is true for the legislators, but probably those positions could be compromised for the banner of the party ideology on the ballot. This is why at least an exception should have been expected in the case of the election of the mayor.

The local government structure clearly requires further reform, and as pointed out by the MPs of the MQM, warrants more authority and funding as well. Until the local government structure is improved, you cannot expect democracy to flourish at the grassroots and for people to solve their own problems instead of waiting for bureaucratic machinery in a distant capital.

One of the fundamental ways to establish the credibility of the democratic system is to empower people with choices. We need to have faith in the people and have respect for their vote.

The constitutional provision for the direct election of the mayor could go a long way in this regard.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

Rejecting the Candidate Running from Multiple Constituencies

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Alright this is no good reason to reject a candidate’s party in any way. But it seems good enough for the people of Peshawar.

It seems good enough to me at least. But only when it comes to the candidate.

While I totally respect the decision of the people of Peshawar to elect Ghulam Muhammad Bilour on the National Assembly seat vacated by Imran Khan because of his victory from two other constituencies, people have been getting offended for all sorts of moral reasons.

But the people of the NA-1 constituency of Peshawar have made their voices heard. They probably voted for Imran Khan, not the PTI. Surprisingly, similar results surfaced in Imran’s native Mianwali. I bet many of the original general elections voters never returned.

So what is the positive out of the August 22 by-elections? That people have rejected the party or substitutes of the candidates running for more than one constituencies.

This also happened in a seat vacated by the independent candidate Jamshed Dasti in Muzaffargarh and Shazia Marri has won the seat from Sanghar which she lost earlier in the general elections like Bilour.

I think if all the people start deciding to boycott voting for candidates who run from multiple constituencies, perhaps our politicians could be convinced to change this ridiculous rule from the electoral constitution. Of course, if the people choose to do so.

Take Javed Hasmi’s example. He ran from NA-55 in Rawalpindi and beat Sheikh Rasheed in the 2008 elections and won his seat from Multan as well. He later vacated the Rawalpindi seat which was taken by Malik Shakeel Awan of PML-N. In 2013, he ran from NA-48 Islamabad and again vacated the seat for his other win in Multan.

Politicians such as Javed Hashmi, Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif have made a habit running from multiple constituencies, it seems.

I know it is perfectly legal for these candidates to do so, but I have a problem with it. It unnecessarily results in by-elections that everyone can do without, which only ends up wasting public money. In NA-54, the PML-N candidate Malik Abrar ran for both national and provincial assemblies at the same time in 2008 and won both offices. At least that can be avoided.

Personally, given the political structure in Pakistan, I’d rather vote for someone local. Someone who actually lives in the constituency. But this does not mean that educated and reasonable people like Asad Umer should not be given a chance if they run from another constituency, and he won from the NA-48 seat vacated by Javed Hashmi.

However, I am familiar that all these political heavyweights are too insecure to take the chance of running from just one constituency, though people like Chaudhary Shujaat, Sheikh Rasheed and Amin Faheem can do that, and this is what justifies this rule. But I would really like to see this rule go, among so many others.

But then again, that’s just me.