How Free and Fair Elections are Free and Fair in Pakistan?
We in Pakistan have come across the term “Free and Fair” over a considerable time now and every time a general election (2013 or earlier ones) or a local body election (just recently concluded) is conducted we hear the same old mantra and slogans by the political parties regarding the free and fair conduct of elections. Those who win, term the election as free and fair and those who don’t, think otherwise and have numerous reasons to do so.
Well, who can really term the election conducted in Pakistan as a free and fair election, is it media? Or the political parties? Or any institution? How credible, legitimate can elections be in Pakistan? We have got Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which despite of any controversy terms the election free and fair, no offense to ECP but the people there have jobs like all others and can’t really themselves say that they are not good at conducting their jobs. Couple of months back Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice retired Sardar Raza stated that “ECP will take all possible measures to hold free and fair LG polls. Since the LG polls have been conducted successfully now comes the time when political parties term these free and fair. There is a Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) established in 2006 in Pakistan to observe the general elections and mobilize voters. Most of the political parties, ECP, international observers has acknowledged the work of FAFEN (http://fafen.org/about-fafen/).
Similarly on international level there is “Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections” which was unanimously adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 154th session (Paris, 26 March 1994) (http://www.ipu.org/cnl-e/154-free.htm). This Declaration urges Governments and Parliaments throughout the world to be guided by the principles and standards set out therein. It is a brief declaration adopted which not only gives all the States in the world the direction for free and fair election but for the evolution of democracy in any state the points discussed in this declaration is of utmost importance. Article 1 demonstrates the wider picture for free and fair election i.e. In any State the authority of the government can only derive from the will of the people as expressed in genuine, free and fair elections held at regular intervals on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage.
Further Voting and election rights are defined along with Candidature, Party and Campaign Rights and Responsibilities and finally the rights of responsibilities of the states in conducting free and fair election.
While openness and accountability are usually considered foundation of a democratic system, the act of casting a vote and the content of a voter’s ballot are usually an important exception. The secret ballot is a relatively modern development, but it is now considered crucial in most free and fair elections, as it limits the effectiveness of intimidation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Election).
Terming an election to be free and fair depends upon various factors; these may be extended but mainly includes a detailed legislative structure adopted and agreed by all political forces of the country even by those who are not currently in the parliament. A general acceptance should be given by all on the legislative structure for conducting elections. We are still in process of electoral reforms in Pakistan and with LG polls just concluded and general election in couple of years time the reforms need to be in place and implemented otherwise the consequences would be the same as that of 2013 general elections. Secondly an impartial ECP and a vigilant eye of media on all the happenings around the system is a key to free and fair elections. Media should act as a third party spectator and have constructive criticism rather than being biased. Finally keeping Pakistan in mind, an improved law and order situation can have a huge impact on conducting free and fair elections. No matter how good and effective the legislative framework is and how well the ECP conducts itself but if the law and order situation is not improved and ordinary citizen does not feel comfortable in casting his vote all the work and reforms shall go to waste. It is now time for all those sitting in that Parliament to gear up and start working and implement those electoral reforms as promised by them and give the people of Pakistan a transparent method of election where the vote of every person is safeguarded.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.