Pakistan’s Rigged Electoral System Hinders Democracy – OpEd


Pakistan needs to develop a better system capable of dealing with complex concerns. To stay up with the world and deal with today’s concerns, the electoral system must evolve.

With general elections scheduled to happen in a few months. The current political setup being replaced with one democratically elected by the public is denying holding fresh elections on time. There are numerous speculations and laws under consideration in order to either delay the elections or rig them. Electoral rigging has impeded Pakistan’s democratic development, damaged political stability, and led to the collapse of the rule of law.

Faced with domestic pressure for the rule of law, successive military rulers falsified national, provincial, and local elections to secure regime survival. These elections produced unrepresentative legislatures that rubber-stamped extensive constitutional and political modifications to centralize power with the military and elevate its civilian allies. Undemocratic rule has also suppressed other civilian institutions, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is in charge of staging elections to the national and four provincial assemblies, as well as municipal administrations.

Two basic electoral systems are First Past the Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation. FPTP is the most widely used worldwide, including in Pakistan, with voters receiving ballot papers with candidate lists. However, it has flaws, such as a tendency for two big parties to dominate government and promoting a “two or few” party system. Most parties do not tend to win enough seats due to the smaller number of candidates elected.

Pakistan features a system of parliamentary government whereby the legislature is directly elected by public vote in constituencies using a secret ballot. Pakistan’s Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) formed the government in the 2013 general elections, winning 32.77% of the vote. Similarly, in 2018, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the elections and established the government with a majority of votes (31.82%). In both situations, despite the fact that more than half of the country’s people did not vote for these parties, they created governments based on a majority. The system promotes the general will, not the will of all voters. According to Pew Research Centre research, an overwhelming proportion of respondents in the other five Muslim-majority countries chose democracy over Pakistan. According to the findings, Pakistanis are by far the least inclined to support democracy. In comparison to Turkey, where 71% of respondents supported democracy, only 42% of Pakistanis shared that sentiment.

The main driver of this atrocity is the country’s deceptive political system, which is primarily governed by the supreme military establishment. In a democratic setting, the concept of healthy civil-military relations would imply that the elected civilian administration would have primacy over the military. The situation in Pakistan, on the other hand, is completely different because the country has been under military administration for more than half of its history. In reality, Pakistan has been one of the most prominent military-authoritarian exceptions to the global trend of democratic rebirth.

The country’s most recent military coup occurred in 1999, and it was followed by eight years of military rule. Until 2013, Pakistan had not witnessed a single democratic transition of power from one democratically elected administration to another. Military coups have thwarted all of the country’s previous democratic transitions. The military’s substantial and long-standing participation in politics has done significant damage to Pakistan’s democratic process. The military has either acted directly to overthrow governments or curtailed the authority and autonomy of democratically elected governments. Military coups and control have exacerbated the country’s structural problems, ranging from inadequate governmental capacity to economic underdevelopment, by impeding political solutions. In other words, the military has frequently intervened to halt the country’s regular democratic growth.

This, in turn, exacerbated the country’s political and electoral mistrust over time. Almost all general elections have been declared rigged by opposition parties due to military intervention and a weak electoral system. Citizens express concern about polling worker tactics that favor votes for one party while restricting electors for the other. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been chastised for being biased and nepotistic. There are significant flaws in the system that, despite earlier attempts at change, remain largely unresolved. Many countries have made efforts to alter their electoral processes in order to employ the highest levels of transparency required for revitalizing a country’s democratic values.

There are numerous glimpses of chaos in history. During General Yahya’s dictatorship, the military refused to hand over control to Sheikh Mujib-Ur-Rehman after elections. Apart from the military leadership, the runner-up in the 1970s general elections, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, also refused to acknowledge the Awami League’s mandate. As a result, East Pakistan’s, now Bangladesh’s, political turmoil and public resentment grew. Protests ensued, and Pakistan lost its eastern wing following a brutal standoff. However, the circumstances remain the same. In April of last year, the Grand Alliance of more than eleven parties deposed the country’s elected Prime Minister. This was made feasible thanks to the backing of the then-military general and his setup. Everyone is now aware of the issue. The country lacks a stable government. The hybrid regime in power consistently denies the need for new elections. As they are not in a position to face the public.

The leadership of the country must prioritize electoral reforms before the next general election. When former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his intention to overhaul the election system, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf government provided a breath of fresh air. His team changed the rules to allow for the deployment of electronic voting in the country. For the first time, Pakistan’s democratic structure took on the responsibility of granting foreign Pakistanis the right to vote. But it was all in vain. In Urdu, there is a popular saying that “this is Pakistan; anything can happen here anytime.” And the same thing happened. After seizing control of the premiership and parliament, the current establishment-backed government rejected the idea of an electronic voting system.

The electoral system and democracy would prevail in Pakistan if and when Pakistan’s politicians and military establishment recognized and protected the democratic process and mandate of its population. The issue is thus to embrace democracy in all of its forms rather than make decisions in the interests of specific groups.


Asfandiyar works as a journalist based in Islamabad.

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