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Electoral reforms — not for the masses

Mohammad Jamil

Addressing a seminar on electoral reforms organized by Democracy International in Islamabad the other day, Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani lauded formation of the committee with representation of all political parties in the Parliament instead of handling the matter in a standing committee, and bringing all laws relating to elections under one law. He said work of the parliamentary committee which considered lacunas in election procedures was a right step by parliament. The chairman senate said laws existed previously but those laws enhanced the powers of Election Commission (EC). However, Election Commission did not use its authority. He said: The commission should carry out its due role without any fear as its powers were defined in the Constitution.” Anyhow, the idea of electronic reforms has caught the fancy of both government and opposition parties, but people are not interested in such scheme of things.None outside the political class or ruling elite should harbor the fancy idea, as it is not meant to promote the democracy project. In fact, it has nothing to do with the mass of the people. The whole of this sudden reformative interest is palpably motivated solely by the rabid political grouses of the oligarchs holding the nation’s entire politics in their avaricious grab and is aimed at strengthening up the electoral process in accordance with their mutually acceptable criterions and standards for their greater mutual satisfaction. Of course, political grandees are dressing up their interest in reforming the existing electoral system in the attires of democracy. But this is as much ruse as have been there so many played over the past decades to don the apparels of democracy beguilingly on what has nothing to do even remotely with it.No Newton is needed to tell that elections contest in the country is the battle in which commoners, who make the backbone of a real democracy, only figure as bystanders and not real participants. Indeed, in this land the commoners cannot even think of getting into the electoral system. Not only because of the prohibitive costs involved, but because a surging sea of the citizenry in this land still lives in the servitude and bondage even in these contemporary times of tremendous human emancipation and liberty. This powerless, voiceless and cattle-like dumb-driven citizenry lives in the thralldom of overbearing landed aristocrats and pirs, feudal lords and sardars, filthy rich robber barons and moneyed upstarts who have acquired land ownership as well. On paper this citizenry may be fully empowered and enfranchised but in reality it is not, and is wholly at the beck and call of their masters.This is a stark pungent ground reality that it votes its masters want it to vote, as its own will counts for nothing. But it gets no attention, no mention even in the prattle of the self-styled rights-watchdogs, puffed up intellectual luminaries, advocacy NGOs that are mostly foreign funded and media lights parading themselves to be great champions of democracy. What electoral reforms could really be worth if this mass scale disenfranchisement is not put paid to and a surging impoverished, the downtrodden and the enslaved is not inducted effectively in the polls process? It is clearly the land reforms that can do the miracle of empowering the disempowered in a whole lot. But has anyone ever heard of voices talking about land reforms coming from political parties’ offices or media studios or heard of seminars being held by the civil society groups? In western democracies, there is element of meritocracy whereby those belonging to middle class can also reach higher echelons of power. Former prime minister of Britain Johan Major was son of a dancer/circus performer, and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had worked as a chemist in Central Institute of Physical Chemistry. Anyhow, democracy is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people, and exercised directly by them or by their elected representatives under a free electoral system.
Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people’ for the people’. However, he was candid when he said: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” People in Pakistan are losing faith in the system, which does not address their problems.

Today, economic disparity, socio-economic injustice, political instability, internecine conflicts between politicians, rampant corruption, rising crime rate, target killings, energy crisis and ineffective criminal justice system, especially in lower courts, are the challenges facing the nation. These challenges need to be met through unity and harmony between the pillars of the state with their collective wisdom. They should at least adhere to the principles laid down by the architects of western democracy to care for the common man by providing jobs, health care and equal opportunities to all. They should help the people living in the gloom of stalking poverty, squalor, want and deprivation. However, they are neither in focus of the ruling elite nor by the anchorpersons, analysts and intellectuals who more often than not highlight the elites’ grouses rather than highlighting the grievances of the have-nots and the downtrodden.

Politics is the process through which communities and civil societies pursue collective goals and resolve the contradictions, disagreements and or socio-political conflicts. Unfortunately, Pakistani democracy depicts different ground reality, as voters after having elected their representatives virtually become subjects of powerful elite who ride a rough shod over them and shatter all hopes of voters by neglecting their problems, financial difficulties and psychological distress. Promises made during election campaign are forgotten, while perks of public offices are fully enjoyed. Because of flawed policies, it has become difficult for the majority of the people to keep their body and soul together. That point besides, the political grandees could not stomach a local governments system, simply fearing end to its monopoly on politics and power finally. This cry for electoral reforms is thus not to empower commoners but to make electoral system more satisfying to oligarchs.

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