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Electoral Reforms For Developing Democracies

The biggest fault in a democracy, as it is practiced all over the world, is the election campaign funding part, because individuals and corporations that finance an election campaign, always have ulterior motives: that is, they treat political funding as an investment from which they intend to make profits by influencing the executive policy and legislation.

The way I see it, there are three big structural faults in the Pakistani political system. A representative and democratic political system tends to weed out the corrupt and inept rulers in the long run. But the Pakistani democracy has frequently been derailed by decade long martial laws (1958-71, 1977-88 and 1999-2008) and every time we get back to the square one.

It works like the trial-and-error method: the politicians who fail to deliver are cast aside and those who deliver are retained through the election process. A martial law, especially if it is decade long, gives a new lease of life to the already tried, tested and failed politicians.

But this imperfection in the democratic system is only Pakistan-specific. When we take a look at the stable democracies, like India for instance, even their politicians are not representative of their masses, because they work in the interest of the elite rather than the underprivileged masses. This fact begs some further analysis of democracy as it is practiced in the developing world.

Politics is the exclusive prerogative of the ultra-rich in the developing world: that is, the feudal, industrialists and the big businesses. The masses and the members of the middle class cannot take part in the elections because the election campaigns entail huge expenses; and if the individual candidates spend money from their own pockets on their election campaigns, or the election campaigns of their respective political parties, then how can we expect from such elected representatives that they will not use political office for personal benefits in order to raise money for their expensive election campaigns in the next elections?

In the developing countries politics works like business: the individual candidates of the political parties make an investment on their election campaigns and reap windfalls when they get elected as law-makers in the legislature or as ministers in the government.

In the developed Western countries the individual candidates do not spend money from their pockets on their election campaigns; the political parties raise funds from the contributions which are then spent on the election campaign of the political parties and their individual candidates.

But this practice is also subject to abuse; because the election financiers, especially the corporations, when they donate money to a particular political party’s election campaign, in return they demand a say in the policy making of the government of such political parties. Such a government is beholden to its financiers and cannot pursue an independent policy in the interests of the masses.

A much better practice for generating election-related funds has been adopted in some developed countries, where the state allocates funds from its national budget for the political parties’ election campaigns if they manage to obtain a certain percentage of the popular vote on a national level.

Though, it may sound onerous for the impoverished, developing democracies, but if we take a look at all the other governance-related expenses, it would appear feasible. Take the cost of maintaining federal and provincial bureaucracies for instance: paying the salaries of the bureaucrats; maintaining the federal and provincial public service commission’s and academies, etc.

The bureaucracy only constitutes the mid-tier of the governance structure; the top-tier is occupied by the politicians who formulate the state policy. Paying for the election-related expenses of the political parties is only a one-time cost and its benefits can be enormous, and it also avoids all the pitfalls of taking contributions from the shady individual and corporate donors.

Notwithstanding, another big fault in the Pakistani political system is the refusal of the party chiefs of the two national level political parties: Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan People’s Party, to hold intra-party elections. How can you champion democracy on a national level when you refuse to Because of this reason both of these political parties have become personality cults and family fiefdoms rather than representative political parties, as such.

The only political party, which has held intra-party elections before the 2013 parliamentary elections, is the new entrant in the Pakistani political landscape: that is, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Those elections were far from perfect but it was a step in the right direction. Democracy evolves over time. Instead of losing faith in the political system we must remain engaged in the repetitive electoral process, which delivers in the long run through the scientifically proven trial-and-error method.


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