The one thing that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) does not believe in is the famous saying of Thomas Szasz. “In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten. In the human kingdom, define or be defined”. The ECP refuses to understand this very fundamental point. Integrity and good wishes are highly desirable but nothing is likely to happen unless the ECP can (a) define its processes and (b) create mechanisms for their implementation.
A number of discussions with various ECP officials expose an alarming picture of how the ECP intends to conduct the much talked about and much needed accountability and scrutiny in the coming elections. The bad news is that regardless of the much publicized new ‘nomination form’, the scrutiny process this time will be no different from what the ECP managed to stage in 2008. There are two major reasons to believe that we have a replay of 2008 awaiting just around the corner. First that the ECP has learnt no lessons from its blunders of 2008 and second that even now it has no defined processes in place to accomplish the much needed separation of the chaff from the wheat.
The ECP is yet not really convinced that it conducted a sham election in 2008 that included 37 million fake votes. By its acts of omission and commission it allowed hundreds of fake degree holders, dual nationals, tax evaders and law violators to contest elections and become our ‘illegitimate’ law makers. For five long years, the sleepy ECP could not detect that 70 % legislators did not file their tax returns. What can explain such an indifferent and apathetic stance. For an organization not willing to admit or correct its past errors, the future could only be darker than before. It would be almost boring to repeat what Einstein said for such situations.
The second reason is yet more disquieting. The process of scrutiny retains all those holes that it had in 2008 and the rosy clichés generously dispensed on the TV channels have no substance or systems to make the scrutiny dream come true. There are no mechanisms in place for the 300 or so hugely spread out ‘Returning Officers’ to verify or detect errors and falsehoods that now characterize our ‘not so esteemed’ lawmakers. Instead of using pro-active means of verification, the ‘Returning officer’ will still continue to await an opponent’s objection to take a serious second peep into the plethora of documents that ought to be processed in 7 calendar days.
Rather late in the day, but a number of actions can still be taken to develop new scrutiny mechanisms. The first requirement is for the ECP to define a complete process that explains each step and activity involved from the submission of forms to the final declaration of results. This must be depicted in a process flow chart along with specific requirements , role of support organizations and individuals, meaning of terms and checks carried out at each stage. This flow chart should be available on ECP website and published in newspapers for all citizens to know how exactly the ECP plans to accomplish its mission. Currently the ECP is extremely shy of describing except in the vaguest of terms its present modus operandi. Unless it follows the above suggestions and makes public its proposed methodology, the people of Pakistan should have little reason to trust ECP’s ability to deliver.
New methodologies can be rapidly adopted by the ECP. All contestants should be asked to fill and make direct on-line submissions of nomination forms to the ECP, while giving a hard copy to the “Returning Officer”. Once submitted to ECP, the forms can be simultaneously made available to the HEC, NADRA, FBR, SCB, Utility and other organizations for verification against specific and well defined parameters. No candidate should be allowed to contest unless specifically cleared by each of these organizations and verified by the ECP. The ECP should display the contents of each nomination form on its website to enable any citizen to raise an objection directly to the Returning Officer or electronically to the ECP central election cell.
The ECP could right away begin this exercise by using the data that was provided by the 1170 or so parliamentarians elected in 2008 elections. This would not just be a great rehearsal opportunity but also enable the ECP to carry out a thorough scrutiny and weed out those who violated the 2008 rules. Needless to say that most of these men and women are waiting in the perch to dodge the ECP one more time.
The people of Pakistan must not allow themselves to be misled by pedantic talk-shows or clichés. They must demand from the ECP to come out with specific , well-defined, publicly-displayed and detailed processes along with all the checks and controls that are put in place for an effective scrutiny. If this does not happen now – there is no chance that it will happen once the election bells begin to toll.