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.

How could the Chairman Savior be wrong?

Source: Reuters/Dawn

Source: Reuters/Dawn

It’s very much understandable that many of the PTI supporters and thought leaders are in denial of the Judicial Commission report on the 2013 general elections, from the very authority that they recognized and demanded for before their utterly ridiculous “sit-in” protest campaign in Islamabad. It’s déjà vu really, because all of us clearly remember how everyone was convinced how perfectly impeccable the person of Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim would be for the role of Chief Election Commissioner for the 2013 polls, only later to be dismissed and demonized.

Just like the integrity of Justice Ibrahim was questioned after the unfavorable results of the 2013 general elections, the majority of the PTI following is still in denial, if not resorting to condemnation, of the findings of the Election commission. How could it be true if the Chairman Savior said otherwise? Despite the fact that the Chairman Savior Imran Khan reluctantly accepted the findings, the PTI leadership in general is doing nothing to change that impression among the party members. Of course, the people are not to be blamed for this. However, their trait of “questioning everything” would be far more admirable, if they took the trouble of questioning the judgement of their Chairman Savior every now and then.

PTI has created this political narrative of conspiracy theories for traction, cashing in on the miserable mood of the general masses. While it does work pretty well, it also proves to be counterproductive for the democratic process and progress, when the people completely give up any hope in the judicial institutions of the country, and rest all of their hopes in the person of the party Chairman, something which PTI hardly ever discourages.

The larger PTI narrative is worsening the already dying belief of the people in democratic institutions and the judiciary, while trying to enter and reform the same. This is why it is hardly any surprise that you would find so many among the urban middle class who support the party, while fiercely defending their democratic rights, but also resorting to condemn democracy at the same time, considering it “an inappropriate system of governance for Pakistani people.” Never thought I heard anything more insulting to the people of Pakistan. But then again, people who don’t vote for political parties that you side with always appear stupid. Many of such disgruntled supporters would even consider a military takeover than seeing the likes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in office, which sounds pretty familiar. Leaders such as ally Sheikh Rasheed are the perfect proponents of this view among the public.

I often find it hilarious when I find PTI supporters criticize PML-N for resorting to the “politics of the 90s,” even though many of them were not around to know what that means. But what is worse is that there is no shortage of such seasoned adults among them. It could be true actually in terms of politics of revenge, especially in terms of targeting of the MQM if it qualifies, but I also recall the politics of the 90s to be the politics of the sore loser. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto resorted to juvenile tactics, refusing to accept their failure in general elections, though eventually coming to terms with the facts, but all that changed since the PPP government that formed in 2008. Call it the Zardari factor, if you will. But hard lessons were learned after the Musharraf coup d’etat in 1999.

However, it seems that the baton of the “sore loser” politics from the 90s has been taken up by the PTI, when no one was even around to pass it to them. Are they not the ones who resorted to hijack the entire elected parliament by concocting unrealistic allegations of the kind of rigging that only the state would have pulled off, and that were more like conspiracy theories than anything else? Many of them, by their own admission, turned out to be pure fabrication for political purposes, such as the allegations against the Interim Chief Minister of Punjab.

What needs to be understood here is that there is probably a not-so-thin line between movement for reform and self-defeating, cynical absolutism. This is somewhere even the most otherwise-sane followers of PTI look like losing the plot, and supposedly evil and “illiterate” political parties such as the PML-N end up appearing to be far more reasonable.

However, the critics of the PTI should not forget that the party derives its power from the passion of the people. Sheer passion putting all its force behind a Messianic leader that it blindly trusts, and one that is probably thirsty for a public lynching. Imran Khan could only have dreamed to have such support among whatever following he enjoys. However, it is the measure of a leader as to how they would want to direct this force of passion that they are blessed with.

Toward patient, organized reform through the parliament, or toward destruction, impatience, and chaos, just like the spectacularly failed “sit-in protest” campaign orchestrated in the fall of 2014. Because the direction would surely push many to question the very motives of the Chairman Savior.

It’s about time PTI started realizing and learning from its own mistakes for a change, though it could involve changing their popular narrative.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.