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Can we craft a new electoral system in Pakistan?

A colleague of mine wrote this article which i thought was very timely. While a big uproar has engulfed the country on unfair elections of 2013 and the PTI supporters are gearing for a long March, some people are taking steps to come up with proposals or at least set up a process to review the election mechanism. The initiative of the Parliament to set up a committee to come up with recommendations of reforms is a step forward.

Can we craft a new electoral system   by Zafarullah Khan

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

With the formation of a 33-member Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) the ball has finally arrived in the political-and-parliamentary court.

Electoral reforms primarily belongs to the political domain; in the past it tried to plug some holes via computerised electoral lists based on ‘one CNIC-one vote’, a full time Election Commission appointed through parliamentary scrutiny and insurance for continuity through a neutral caretaker setup. Judicial activism also tried to check the use and abuse of money, media and muscle.

These piecemeal transplants over an archaic electoral system based on outdated statutes didn’t yield enough dividends, yet the country witnessed its first ever civilian to civilian transition and transfer of power. The slightly improved system also demonstrated its capacity to expose ‘electoral thieves’ and subsequently generated demands for electoral reforms in public and political spheres.

Effective democratic architecture is founded on undisputed electoral legitimacy determined through clean votes, therefore responding to rising political temperatures and calls for audit of Election-2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wrote a letter to the speaker of the National Assembly on June 10, 2014 to constitute a parliamentary committee to address the issue.

According to the motion adopted on June 19, 2014 in the National Assembly the PCER is mandated to evaluate shortcomings of previous elections and make recommendations for electoral reforms for free, fair and transparent elections within three months from the date of its notification. Meaning thereby, the PCER has to work day and night for 92 days to complete its task of preparing comprehensive reforms package or suggestions to completely overhaul the system by October 25, 2014.

The odd thing is that mere constitution of the committee consumed 45 days. Similar lacklustre attitude will be fatal during the agreed short life of the PECR. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which emerged as the harbinger of electoral reforms, has already cautioned that the PCER shall not be used as a ‘delaying tactic’ to defuse their struggle – which otherwise is gaining momentum. To alleviate fears a parliamentary pledge has been made that the timeframe given to the committee will not be extended at any cost.

The scope of work of the PCER includes, but is not limited to, making recommendations to ensure free, fair and transparent elections, adoption of the latest technology, proposing necessary legislation or constitutional amendments, if required. One expects that with this explicit mandate the PCER will opt for out-of-the-box solutions and instead of relying on fixing the old system here and there, it will come up with a modern electoral system that will be compatible with the technological possibilities of electronic-voting.

Perhaps it is time to shift from manual to modern technological e-voting, e-voter registration plus verification, e-counting and swift electoral grievance redress mechanisms in Pakistan. In this way, with the change of electoral software, the hardware of country’s electoral machinery – more specifically the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) – would require a different kind of leadership and human resources to internalize reforms and vanguard nation’s political wealth. In the past despite efforts the ECP couldn’t reclaim its original soul and spirit because military regimes used it as an instrument to earn legitimacy for usurpers through fraudulent referendums in 1984 and 2002.

One expects that the committee will also dedicate its energies to democratise qualification and disqualification criteria enlisted in Article 62 and 63. The minimum will be to delete dictatorial clause inserted during General Zia’s regime as they have confused the political narrative in the country. The committee shall also revisit the Political Party Order-2002 as it was promulgated by yet another military regime and falls short on fixing any spending limit on parties and a proper audit of parties’ financial statements. The law is totally silent about the formation of election alliances and this lacuna has been exploited well by banned outfits that contested previous election.

This politics-led indigenous initiative for reforms must take into account the country’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and many other pledges that assert citizens’ right to be governed democratically and be able to participate and run for an elected office.

There is a significant body of knowledge on what ails Pakistan’s electoral system. The list of problems is long – ranging from ghost polling stations to troubles in trustworthy counting and record keeping. The Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Law has done lot of homework. The Special Committee on Election Issues in the Senate also held public hearing and series of consultative meetings. The PCER shall also hold public hearings or at least solicit citizen’s suggestions for electoral reforms. In this regard political parties are the main stakeholders and those who are currently out of parliament and continue to create chaos shall also be consulted to make this process more inclusive. Over the years international donors have also spent millions of dollars to fix the fractured electoral system.

Dissection of the composition of the PCER reveals that out of 18 political parties with representation in the National Assembly only three single legislator parties – the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, the National Party of Dr Malik Baloch and tthe All Pakistan Muslim League of General Musharraf – have been denied berth in the committee comprising 16 parties and independents from Fata.

The single-senator National Party has also been ignored by the Senate, which contributed 11 members to the PCER. The committee includes nine legislators who had been members of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms that cobbled the 18th Amendment. There are four women legislators from the lower house but there is no representation of religious minorities. The speaker is empowered to replace any member of the committee on the request of the parliamentary party leader concerned. The leading parties must consider inclusion of those who have been excluded in the first notification.

Nevertheless a window of opportunity has been created to reform the country’s electoral system to make it more inclusive and transparent. This moment must be seized because a trustworthy electoral system along with an independent judiciary and free media will be the key to a better democratic future. This will be happening amid a climate of political confusions and chaos characterised by calls for marches and so-called revolution. Only time will tell whether the political class will be able to ward off any future coup de grace against the fragile and transitory democracy or complicate the matter further.

The writer is an Islamabad-based civic educator/researcher with an interest in federalism and democratic development.

 

 

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Welcome to the new Chief Justice in Pakistan

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Justice Nasirul Mulk was sworn in as the 22nd Chief Justice of Pakistan. Although we all are excited about a person who is very honest and committed on fundamental human rights in this position, we are concerned about the challenges he will have to face in a crisis prone environment and power brokers in every sector. he was among the judges who were deposed and suffered equally with the judges who took a stance on the illegitimate Martial Rule.

Mukhtara mai’s gang rape case became an icon for the struggle of women against violence. It went on for 8 years and finally met a disappointing fate at the Supreme court. Only one rapist was convicted all the others equally guilty in the gang rape went Scott free. Among the three judges on the Panel on Justice Nasir wrote a note of decent and fully supported Mukhtara Mai’s testimony. the decision of the case resulted in nationwide protests but at least women were happy that one of the three judges understood the social pressures women have to go through to file a case of this nature and the social dynamics around such cases. His historic note makes him popular among women and at the same time the expectations from him are more than it would have been from another justice.

He comes from the Swat Valley  and was brought up in a politically and socially aware family. His father was a Senator and so was his brother. He did his law degree from Peshawar in 1972 and his higher studies from London. He became the chief justice of Peshawar high court and was appointed as a Judge of the supreme court on 15 April 2005. Being the most senior Judge after the retirement of the last Chief Justice he has been appointed as the new Chief Justice. This smooth transition helps Pakistan’s judiciary to become stronger.

We welcome Justice Nasirul Mulk as our Chief Justice, a person with unblemished record, with the hope that he will keep the Judiciary independent. We need this support to stabilise our democracy.

 


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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Legislations Passed – The Silver Lining

Read My Article: http://tribune.com.pk/story/680052/international-womens-day-legislations-passed-the-silver-lining/

Today is a day to highlight the most pertinent issues confronting women, to celebrate our achievements, to identify the  gaps and, most of all, stand in solidarity for change. Today is not a Hallmark day to merely say, “Happy Women’s Day!”
The most prominent achievement for women in the past few years has been the passage of new progressive legislation for women. Perhaps this is the time to reflect on well we have utilized those advances. How many steps forward have we taken and how far back have we slipped. On the whole, we can say that regardless of the passage of good legislation, we cannot move forward unless we all are willing to make it work.
Taking a quick look at the progress made on the implementation of the seven laws passed over the last four years, it seems that the highest marks can be given to the Benazir Income Support Program, the anti-sexual harassment legislation and empowering the NCSW. Although quite different in nature these are the only ones that have an organised mechanism for implementation.
The Benazir Income Support Program Act culminated in a project that made its mark by directly assisting thousands of women to develop themselves. Although there were concerns that the new Government might allow it to lapse, a wise decision last year will allow the program to continue and build upon its achievements.
On the sexual harassment front, within the first year after passage, over 1000 cases were filed and the figure has steadily risen.  However, many complainants are facing increased pressure to drop their cases and several accused have been able to save themselves through high level connections. Nevertheless, the banking sector, including the State Bank, several federal government agencies, such as NADRA, as well as HEC and many universities have shown outstanding results, setting a precedent for the future. At a ceremony in December last year, awards were given to eight organisations and individuals that had built exceptionally supportive work environments. While these achievements might appear limited, the change in people’s attitudes has been revolutionary. Although the private and government sectors are steadily improving, the offices of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Ombudsmen in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, established to support the victims of this crime, have been working below expectation. Collectively, they have employed an insensitive working model that has failed to support victims by making unnecessary delays and failing to understand either the legislation or the issue.
The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) was re-established early last year under a revised Act. The revised legislation provided a stronger legal basis for the Commission, which is the national watch dog body on women’s issues. However, while the legislation provided autonomy for the Commission, the bureaucracy got its revenge by making the the passage of the implementing rules an unnecessarily long and drawn out affair. As a result, the impact this institutional reform is yet to be seen.
As the devolution aspects of the18th Amendment gather momentum, the provinces have been gearing up their new legislative agenda. Although women’s issues have not been seen as a major priority, there have been some commendable efforts. Sindh started off by passing its domestic violence bill.  Passage of this bill by a province was a bittersweet victory as civil society had failed for nine year to get it passed by the federal parliament. Balochistan followed suit, but with a weaker version. Nevertheless, we give them high marks for their intention and action as an amendment has been promised to fix some critical gaps in the text.
Despite world-wide attention on Pakistan, the amendment to the PPC that criminalized acid burning has not made much difference on the number of cases registered or convictions obtained during the last year. The reason is that this was supposed to be a set of two pieces of legislation, an amendment in the PPC, plus a comprehensive law that fully tackles the full challenge faced when filing a complaint, collecting evidence, and conducting a judicial inquiry. That comprehensive bill was never passed and now must approved by each province individually. Although one feels that In the face of the gravity of this crime, you might wonder who would oppose such a badly needed law, nevertheless the provincial governments have not yet considered it important enough to be taken up for a vote.
The implementation on the PPC amendment on anti-women practices, covering such crimes as forced marriage, exchanging women to resolve local conflicts and preventing women from inheriting their rightful share, has only seen limited results since being signed in December 2011.  Such issues, deeply rooted in the patriarchal nature of our society, have strong backing from the local social elite. Faced with such powerful resistance, the resolve of our state machinery quickly withers.  As with acid burning, domestic violence and rape, these are crimes are committed as an expression of power over women. These will not disappear merely because they are now illegal.  Their impact will be diminished only when our society condemns their perpetrators.
While reviewing the progress in recent years, one point stands out clearly: Implementation of pro-women laws, where it is done at all, results from the efforts of committed groups or individuals that push the process.  In many cases, these committed individuals are themselves complainants who have felt empowered by the new statutes, no matter how painful their journey might be.  These activists know they are cutting against the grain of our society, but they continue to struggle in order to reduce the pain our society inflicts on its own women. These activists are resolute in their efforts because the people in power, who should take it upon themselves to implement these laws, fail to do so because they are too busy resisting or covering their own tracks.


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HOW PAKISTANI LEADERSHIP CAN AVOID A POSSIBLE CIVIL WAR

taliban pic Decades of indecisiveness about taking an action against the militants in Pakistan in a comprehensive manner has led people to be mistrustful of the main institutions of the country: the military, the government, the parliament and the judiciary. While all make big statements against the Taliban, all have had instances where they looked the other way or showed a soft corner for them. People are puzzled by a half-baked strategy where partially our institutions supported the enemy, partially looked away and partially acted against them to keep a pretext of fighting the war.  Last week’s strikes on Waziristan by our military were a sudden change from the peace talk mantras going on for a while. People waited in vain for a comprehensive explanation from the government announcing this change of policy, outline of a future strategy and instructions for people to position themselves in the context of what is about to happen.  Meanwhile, many people evacuated from Waziristan to Bannu in anticipation of more attacks.

A vacuum of decision making at the highest level, gaps in communication with the people, no joint stance of political forces and seemingly erratic attempts of retaliation can give wrong signals to the powerful and deeply entrenched militant enemy at this point. Such conditions can lead to a civil war if not handled properly. Recent announcement by the PM to form a four member committee is a good step forward. Here are some critical points to consider if Pakistan wants to avoid going into a civil war.

Bringing political leadership together: 

The current attacks in Waziristan seem to be led by military decision makers, with elected leadership giving it a civilian cover. These might have played the role of a catalyst in pushing the Government in making announcements of their next steps, but it should not be seen as the basis for future long term strategy. The government should actively seek consensus on the strategy of all political parties and bring them on one page. Merely announcing a negotiating committee or the beginning of a process is not enough. The consensus building should take place within the Parliament and not outside so that this institution gets stronger. The stronger the ownership of the political leadership the better they will be prepared when the negative consequences come. Later they will not be blaming each other and playing political games by saying this was not a good decision. The religious political factions who are sympathizers or pro-militants might not come together fully, but at least the main popular parties should join hands and build solidarity.

Get Experts in the team:

Pakistan is not the first country to face such a problem. Insurgency, militancy and such guerrilla warfare is something many countries have dealt with over decades. There is a whole field of study around conflicts.  Security experts around the world are available for their opinions and insights to contribute to the strategy for countering militants & negotiating with them. Many of these are Pakistani also. There are also local experts within Pakistan with good knowledge of the militant groups, their members, even knowing which members can be approached and who are the hard liners in these gangs. Pakistan has its local experts, among civil society, academia and journalists, who should be included in the closer circles and teams. Civilian government should not only count on military intelligence but should have its own civilian base of expertise who know and understand these groups and can guess their reactions. Sharing secret information from other countries involved in this war might be useful for the civilian government rather than restricting themselves to a few traditional sources of information.  In addition, the members of the negotiating team should not be all conservatives or taliban sympathizers. Pakistan has made this mistake many times, for example, Ijazul Haq,  son of dictator Zia ul Haq, was sent by the last Government to negotiate with the management of Lal Masjid and he came back after giving them a personal donation of one lakh rupees for the illegitimate madrassa built upon land that was not even theirs.

 Military Operation and citizens: 

It is important to have a buy-in from the people of Pakistan. The state has created high levels of confusion over the authenticity of the insurgency so have people romanticize Mujahidin and protect Taliban. The Kashmir affairs cell in PTV never stops working and the propaganda of showing Mujahidin martyrs and Taliban as anti USA and therefore ‘heroes’, is never ending on our media. The coverage of Hakimullah Mehsood is the most recent example where he was shown as a hero by the newspapers and many leaders. If there has to be a direct confrontation with Taliban we need to have Pakistani people join hands also. A clear message from the government and the State is necessary to clearly define the enemy and get the backing of the people, as was done in Swat. This will help the masses face the negative consequences if any in the form of internally displaced people, killing of innocent civilians, in case the negotiations fail.

The enemy is difficult to define:

It is easiest to fight an enemy outside. An enemy within the boundary of a country is difficult to fight. But it is most difficult when the enemy is not definable. As in some countries, this is not a fight between different ethnic or religious groups. Some may think that our enemy could be identifiable by big turbans and big beards holding guns and bombs but that is not so. The ‘taliban phenomenon’ is complicated. There are those who undermine the government through violence. There are those that pave the ground through propagation of a pro-taliban ideology and develop a volatile religious wicket to play on and gain power. There are those that have infiltrated into every sector, media, civil service, judiciary, police, political parties, civil society, business community and the military. These people continuously undermine the State and the Government and propagate the narrative of the militants. It is very difficult when the supporters of the enemy are deep into every institution of ours. In addition criminal elements have also joined the militancy in many cases who have different objectives to be in the fight. It could get difficult to separate out the militants and the purely criminal elements who are using the situation to gain their own benefits.

The present Government has come with a strong mandate. People are looking towards them for the required leadership. With the other political players they do need to take a lead, develop a strategy, not piece meal but a long term strategy with back up actions ready. They should have teams of experts dedicated to different parts of that strategy. The Prime Minister should talk to the people and build the motivation needed to take this enemy on. It is the elected Government that has to move ahead and the people should back them up regardless of which party they belong to.