An Inconveniant Truth :From ‘THE NEWS’ paper

Saturday, March 08, 2008

M P Bhandara

Various expressions such as ‘massive victory, ‘crushing defeat, ‘a clean sweep of President Musharraf
s allies, ‘the nation rejects previous rulers and a slew of chest-thumping slogans have been used by the victors and the media to celebrate the electoral success of the PPP and the PML-N. Even the New York Times, on February 29 referred to the “overwhelming rejection of Musharrafs party by the voters this month”; surprising since the Times has a reputation for scrupulous fidelity to facts. There is an inconvenient truth about this election and President Musharraf has pointed it out in his assertion that his allies have got more votes than his adversaries.

Let us consider the voting facts for a moment: According to the statistics of the Election Commission, the PML-Q and its allies, the MQM, the PML-F and the PPP-S received 10,844,233 votes. The PPP-P received 10,055,491 votes and the PML-N 6,240,343 votes. Therefore, the PML-Q and allies received 40 per cent of votes, the PPP-P 37 per cent and the PML-N 23 per cent of the 27.14M votes cast for the three major parties.

On a one-on-one basis between the three major contenders, the votes received were: the PPP-P 10.3 million, the PML-Q 7.6 million, and the PML-N 6.67 million.

The proportional representation system (PRS) is widely recognized worldwide as a more equitable and a more relevant index of peoples representation than the Anglo Saxon ‘first past the post, which prevails in
India and Pakistan. Under the PRS system the PML-Q and its allies would have received 88 seats in the National Assembly out of 220 seats, the PPP-P 81 seats and the PML-N 51 seats; the remaining 52 seats (the National Assembly has a total of 272 seats which are under direct election) would have gone to the smaller parties.

It is generally recognized that the election of 2008 ranks with the election of 1970 — both held under the auspices of military rulers — as among the fairest in our history. The electoral rolls used in this election were less imperfect as compared to any previous electoral rolls used in Pakistan.

Never before was an election fought on turf as unfavourable as it was for Musharraf and the ‘Q government as it was in 2008. The incumbent government always carries the burden of everything that goes wrong, during its time, and seldom of what went right. The classic case is that of Churchill who lost the election of 1946, being blamed for food shortages and rationing; what the electorate temporarily forgot was that Churchill was the architect of the greatest victory in British history.

Had an election been held exactly a year ago or so, it is the view of most political observers that the Musharraf government would have been returned with a thumping victory. Instead of preparing the turf for an election year to be smooth and free of major controversy — just the very opposite happened — a series of horrors commencing with the suspension of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Lal Masjid fallout (the blame of which has been unfairly placed on the previous government), the events of May 12 in Karachi, the intensification of war in North & South Waziristan, intensification of random suicide bombings, the PCO of November 3, the ethically unacceptable National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the direct intrusion of the US in our domestic affairs, and finally the inflation in the prices of basic commodities after December 15, last year. The last happened in the time of the interim government, which did not have the wisdom to stop the flow of wheat flour to
Afghanistan before it reached a massive outflow.

The most astonishing, nay surprising, result of this election is that the PML-Q and its allies – Musharraf’s party — gathered the highest number of votes, and the ‘Q party by itself was the runner up in terms of votes given. The result appears to express the latent support for the previous government. Why latent? Because the Musharraf years between 2001 and 2007 built up an undeniable economic prosperity which gave Pakistan for the first time a vibrant middle class. Food & energy prices were the lowest in South Asia in the above period and per capita income the highest. These hard economic facts had their remembrance for the voter.

If all parties allegedly believe in the goddess of democracy, then seats in the House of the People (National Assembly) should be proportional to the votes given to parties on a regional or national basis. Most European countries and
Japan employ the PR system in one way or the other. For example, in the German Bundestag, half the seats are under PR and the other half by direct election.

The PR system in a broad outline works as under: –

Each party before the election nominates a ’slate of its members in a preferential numerical order. The National Assembly has a total of 342 seats (which includes 60 reserved seats for women and 10 for minorities who are currently elected in proportion to seats won by the parties in the general election). If a party wins 20 per cent of the popular vote, the same number of seats on regional basis in the National Assembly will be allotted to the party.

The PR system has many advantages and some disadvantages. Be that as it may, it is a truer index of the voice of the nation. Consider: –

Candidates wealth plays a much lesser part in the PR election. Since voting is for a party, not directly for an individual, contributions will be to the party and should be subject to tax concessions. A party worker of modest means, if high up on his party list, will have a better chance to be elected as opposed to a wealthy candidate at a lower slot in the same party list.

The present system is distortive. For example, if candidate-A gets 150,000 votes and candidate-B 200 votes less than candidate-A, the winner enjoys all the benefits of membership (which are substantial) but candidate-B is left in oblivion. Is this fair? Under PR system both the A & B candidates if high up in their parties respective lists can get elected.

P.R. will strengthen inter-party democracy by law. Currently no free or fair elections are held within the party, if at all. Witness the feudal mode of succession in the People’s Party. The same is true of most other parties. Inter party voting should be by secret ballot and held by the Election Commission. The key-stone in the arch of the PR system is to break or lessen dynastic politics by exposing dynasties to the vote of party members.

Currently the party manifesto is simply forgotten the day after the election — as a scrap of paper. Parties will be held better accountable than before, since it is a party programme being sold not the candidate’s election boast. The ruling party will be held accountable at election time in relation to its previous manifesto.

Currently voters are “bussed” and “fed” before being taken to voting stations by interested candidates. This and a slew of election mal-practices will continue under either system, but, will be lesser under PR as the candidate is fighting for a party ideology not directly for himself.

No system of public representation is perfect. But, a combination of the PR and ‘first past the post has many advantages. Several combinations of mix are possible and should be explored for the future of our polity


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