Pakistan: Flawed Electoral Environment

Samrat Sinha

The declaration by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the presidential polls will be held on October 06 is of critical concern. It is imperative to point out that the ECP has played a very crucial role in facilitating the re-election bid of President Musharraf by declaring that he would be eligible to contest elections, despite a constitutional ban on government officials from standing for elections unless they retire two years prior to the polls.

There are two major flaws in Pakistan’s current electoral environment which will strengthen Musharraf’s chances for re-election. First, the poll schedule announced by the ECP states that all candidates will have to file their nomination papers to the presiding and returning officers by September 27, with candidates for the election being declared the same day. However, there are only two candidates as of now, who have officially declared their intentions to stand: Gen. Musharraf and Prof. Anwarul Haq. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto are currently based outside the country. Their absence adversely affects any attempt by the opposition to mobilize support or campaign effectively against the ruling coalition. Even if Benazir Bhutto were to return, it is unlikely that she would be able to file her nomination papers and there is no guarantee that the ECP would not reject her nomination.

Second, the Electoral College system through which the President will be elected indirectly itself has certain biases built into to it. The Electoral College will be composed of electors from the National Assembly, the Senate, and the four provincial assemblies. There are two components of the Electoral College formula that are important:

• The total Electoral College consists of 1170 electors, with the total weighted votes being counted towards the Presidency coming to 702.

• While votes in the National Assembly, the Senate and the Balochistan Assemblies will be counted normally, the constitutional formula being used, requires the total number of votes cast for each candidate in the remaining three provincial assemblies to be multiplied by 65 (total number of seats in the Balochistan Assembly) and then divided by the total number of seats in that particular assembly. Votes cast in the three provincial assemblies will then be added to the total National Assembly, Senate and Balochistan Assembly votes. The winning candidate only requires a simple majority to be declared the winner.

As pointed out by a leading media, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) commands 271/371 seats in the Punjab Assembly, 105/168 in the Sindh Assembly, 28/ 124 in the Northwestern Frontier Province and 25/65 in Balochistan. This distribution of seats is also one of the reasons why the government requires the support of the religious coalition, Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which dominates the Balochistan and NWFP assemblies, and is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. Keeping in mind the formula used to weigh the votes in the Electoral College, the ruling coalition’s majority of 197/ 342 in the National Assembly and 58/100 in the Senate will greatly facilitate re-election of the PML candidate (President Musharraf). Although the opposition All Parties Democratic Movement has threatened that electors belonging to it will resign, it is only logical that their resignation will benefit the ruling coalition.

Now the question arises whether President Musharraf will be elected by the current assemblies or whether by assemblies constituted after General Elections? However, the declaration of the poll schedule by the ECP has meant that even if assemblies were to be dissolved, it is most likely that the President would be elected before any dissolution. Thus a General Election which would return new assemblies with possible gains for the opposition will not affect the re-election bid of the current President. Recently, the Minster for Parliamentary Affairs Dr. Sher Afghan Niazi declared that if there is no other contender, the ECP would have to inevitably declare Musharraf as the winner regardless of whether he is re-elected by outgoing or incoming assemblies.

The most important challenge to the electoral system in Pakistan in the long-term can come from the Supreme Court of Pakistan but in the short-term it is severely constrained by the declaration of the poll schedule. Already, the Court is examining two petitions that contest the legality of the holding of two government posts by Gen. Musharraf. Even if the Court rules against Gen.Musharraf in the petitions, it will be of limited value and will not hamper his re-election (it must be indicated that on the 19th of September, the standing counsel for the President declared in Court, that Gen. Musharraf will give up the post of Army Chief if re-elected). Also, the petition challenging the amendment of the electoral rules by the ECP to facilitate Gen. Musharraf’s re-election (which was brought by the Tehreek-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan) has been rejected by the Court; the Court, tacitly agreeing to the legality of the election.

In conclusion, the coming Presidential election in Pakistan will bring about heightened political instability. The fact that Gen. Musharraf can be indirectly elected and might not reflect the popular vote will be problematic in the post-electoral scenario. While the structural elements of the political system especially the voting formula for the Electoral College, favor the incumbent President, it is critical for analysts to examine further, the implications of the Presidential elections for political stability and democratization in Pakistan.

Author Note
Samrat Sinha is Doctoral fellow at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, The University of Delaware, Newark, USA