PAKISTAN: The Next General Elections -- Some Pre-Requisites

Friday, September 28, 2012
Asian Human Rights Commission
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

First of all, Pakistan being a multinational federal state, the parliament ought to be so constituted as to ensure fair and adequate representation to the people of all the federating units, including especially the marginalized and disadvantaged sections and groups - women, workers, peasants and those labeled as "minorities or non-Muslims". Secondly, considering the glaring imbalances in social, economic and political power existing along class, community, gender, religious and ethnic lines, electoral mechanism must also aim at correcting such imbalances, which have been the root cause of the distrust and disharmony at various levels of the national polity.

The real issue facing Pakistan continues to be the need to ensure the top-to-bottom democratisation of both the state and the society. Unfortunately, the politically and economically dominant elites, who happen to be the beneficiaries of the prevailing lop-sided political, social and economic structures and systems, believe that holding elections by the state and casting votes by the people is all that is required to achieve this objective. The vast majority of the people of Pakistan, however, are looking forward to seeing the next elections usher in an era of the emergence and consolidation of truly representative institutions and responsible and accountable governments, committed to protecting their fundamental social, political, economic and cultural rights as equal citizens without any discrimination whatsoever..

The national scene and special significance of next election

On the one hand, the steadily deepening crisis in Balochistan calls for a radical change in attitudes and priorities on the part of our ruling classes. On the other, the entire Pakistani society seems to be passing through a self-destroying process of social decay - rampant corruption at all levels, fast-growing number of target killings, kidnappings for ransom, crimes against women and children, an utter contempt for the basic social values that regulate a modern civilised society. In such a situation, the coming election assumes extraordinary importance. The parliament and provincial assemblies that will emerge out of the next elections must reflect a serious and firm national commitment to address the above issues. In order to ensure this to happen, the political parties, who will participate in the coming elections, ought to give top place in their election manifestos to these issues and pledge before the nation that they will fulfill their commitments in this regard after they get elected, unlike in the past when pre-election promises were invariably left abandoned outside the Assembly buildings, to wait for the next elections to happen!

Distribution of Population and Representation in Parliament:
Some glaring Facts and Imperatives

Given the vast differences between the federating units, in terms of size, population, level of literacy and economic development and respective share in the overall political and economic power, it is patently erroneous to consider the size of population alone as the basis for determining the percentage of seats allocated to each federating unit. In this context, one should not overlook certain peculiar features of the distribution of population across the country.

Take for instance, two provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Their populations in their entirety do not reside within their geographical boundaries. For example, according to the 1981 census, Punjabis and Pakhtuns formed 7 and 4 percent respectively of the population of Sindh. The 1998 census notes that in Karach, which is an integral part of Sindh, Punjabis and Pakhtuns constituted 13.94% and 11.42% respectively, of the population of the metropolis. This fact is clearly reflected in the election of a couple of Punjabi and Pakhtun representatives to the National Assembly and Provincial Assembly.

Census figures only reflect those migrants who have for the time being or permanently decided to enlist as residents of Sindh. There is likely to be an equal or even larger number of those who do not enlist but will continue to migrate and / or reside in these provinces. This population shift cannot be ignored.

As shown in the above Table, according to the last (1998) census, Punjab has 55.63% of Pakistan's population and has been allotted 53.4% of total seats in the National Assembly (183 out of 342). Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with 13.38% population, has 12.4% (43 out of 342) seats. FATA, an inexplicable political and administrative anomaly, has 2.42% of population but has 3.6% (12 out of 342) seats. Thus, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA together have 15.8% population and 16% (55 out of 342) seats. Sindh, with 22.98 % population and hosting around 15% of it hailing from Punjab and Khyber Pakahtunkhwa, has 22.3% (75 out of 342) seats. Whereas Balochistan, with 4.98% population but comprising 45 percent of Pakistan's land mass, has only 5% (17 of 342) seats!!

Punjab's special role vis a vis Balochistan's peculiar status

The ‘simple' majority of Punjab in the National Assembly has been one of the ‘irritants' fomenting discontent in the smaller federating units, especially Balochistan.

It would be pertinent at this point to recall two examples from our history, one from pre-partition and the other from post-partition period. In the united Punjab, the Muslims, despite constituting 55% of the population, voluntarily settled for 45% share of seats in the legislature, in the interest of inter communal harmony in the province. The other example, a patently negative one, was the imposition of the so-called Parity Formula (1956-70) by which the majority status of East Pakistan was forcibly subverted and brought at par with West Pakistan's. It is noteworthy, however, that the former Punjab province (after its merger into One Unit of West Pakistan) had agreed to accept 40 percent of the total seats in the then West Pakistan Assembly.

In the united Punjab, it was done to ensure inter communal harmony. In the framework of West Pakistan, it was done for the sake of ‘strengthening' One Unit. If Punjab today once again demonstrates the same large-heartedness as it did twice in the past and agrees to 48% of the total seats instead of its population-based entitlement of 53.4%, it will amount to making a significant contribution to strengthening inter- provincial harmony and national unity. The 5.4% seats thus made available, should be allotted to Balochistan, raising its total from 5% to10.4% (i.e. raising its seats from 17 to 36). Consequently, the number of National Assembly and Provincial Assembly constituencies in the province will need to be correspondingly increased. Such a gesture will help to provide the people of Baluchistan a fairly balanced representation in the National Assembly and a sense of participation in Pakistan's parliamentary democratic process. Eventually, it will help Pakistan to emerge as a vibrant, progressive, parliamentary democratic state.

A suggestion for:
** Increase in the number of seats in National Assembly
and Provincial Assemblies;

** Rationalisation of budgetary provisions for MNAs and MPAs

Ensuring full, inclusive representation of the entire people of the country in the elected bodies is the prime objective of a free and fair democratic election. Presently, the strength of the National Assembly (342 seats) is too small to meet this requirement. It will be in the fitness of things if the number of seats in the National Assembly is raised to 500 and of the Provincial Assemblies in the same proportion, in order to ensure fair and equitable representation to the people of all the federating units on the one hand and all the marginalized and deprived sections of society – labour-peasants, women, non-Muslims etc on the other.

By rationalizing the budgetary provisions for MNAs and MPAs covering their travel, accommodation and other facilities, sufficient funds can be generated to take care of the legitimate needs of the increased number of MNAs and MPAs. The best way to achieve this objective is to apply certain restrictions on the free of charge facilities availed by MNAs and MPAs, who possess more than sufficient means to fend for themselves. This should apply to members, whose authenticated incomes exceed the minimum taxable annual income or 5 times the national minimum wages in vogue. Such members should be content with a reasonable allowance to compensate for their attendance in Assembly sessions. For instance, from Multan, Lahore and Peshawar, MNAs can travel to Islamabad by road instead of by air and those owning their own apartments/bungalows in Islamabad-Rawalpindi would surely not need accommodation in parliament lodges and MNA hostels. Same reasoning can apply to MPAs travelling to their respective provincial capitals and to their accommodation during assembly sessions.

Addressing the Special concerns of Sindhis

To make amends for the demographic disorientation of Sindh caused by the incessant inflow of migrants from outside, which threatens to numerically over-run the Sindhi population, apart from effective measures by the government to regulate/control/restrict it, 55 percent of the seats from Sindh in the National Assembly and a similar percentage of seats in the Sindh Provincial Assembly shall remain permanently allocated to indigenous Sindhis, with iron-tight constitutional guarantees against its violation.

Some essential steps to promote participatory democracy and federalism

(1). Proportional Representation and Party List system

The system of Proportional Representation has its roots in the recognition of the fact that power and wealth in most societies are always unevenly distributed and this imbalance prevents a vast section of the society from being represented in the parliament and other elected bodies, thus negating the principle of democratic representation and participatory governance. It is thus meant to institutionally regulate and eventually moderate the role of power and wealth in the electoral process, through direct participation of the less privileged and marginalised sections of society in the process of legislation and policy making.

Ideally, in a country like Pakistan, if one wants to correct the existing state of imbalances and anomalies, the entire election should be held on the basis of proportional representation. It may not be possible to adopt this system in toto for the coming election, which is fast approaching. To pave the way for such healthy changes in the system of elections in the future, the following steps are suggested:

Elections for 50% of the seats shall be constituency-based, which would naturally mean representation of the elite class who alone could afford to contest the constituency-based seats.

In order to facilitate the participation of persons with limited or no means - the marginalized sections of society - the election to the remaining 50% seats shall be conducted on the basis of Proportional Representation/Party List.

The formula of 33% labour-peasants and 33% women in all the elections and elected bodies shall be ensured.

Alternately, or till necessary constitutional, legal and administrative mechanisms are put in place, the political parties committed to a democratic political order, shall voluntarily ensure that their nominated candidates shall comprise 33% labour-peasants and 33% women.

(2). Participatory Democracy at grass roots level

A genuine federal democratic system is incomplete without the establishment of a truly democratic local government system, empowered to address people's problems at the local ‘grass roots' level, free from bureaucratic meddling and red-tape. The anomaly in Pakistan has been that the local government system has been misused by dictatorial rulers to serve their vested interest at the cost of its defined task of serving the people at the lowest tier of the social structure. On the other hand, the elected political governments have displayed a studied apathy for the institution itself, as they apparently regarded it as an encroachment on the freedom of action of the elected members of the Provincial Assembly. The bureaucracy has its own axe to grind in not allowing a genuine representative local government system to function freely, as that would erode their dominant status in the overall administrative system of the province. It is, therefore, imperative to give the Local Government system its due place in the democratic polity and provide it iron-clad constitutional protection, to prevent its blatant misuse by dictatorial regimes and calculated disuse by elected political governments.

Seats of Non-Muslims

Non-Muslims have been raising their genuine grievance that while the total number of seats in National and Provincial Assemblies have been increased from time to time, automatically raising the number of seats of Muslims, the number of seats allocated to non-Muslims has remained static at 10. This anomaly needs to be rectified and the seats for non-Muslims should be increased in all representative bodies in the same proportion as the seats of the majority community have been increased.

Karamat Ali and B.M.Kutty