By Sitwat Waqar Bokhari and Saddam Hussein
Elections 2018 in Pakistan and Afghanistan are being viewed as critical in the history of both countries. Elections in Pakistan are expected to be held on 25-26 of July this year while in Afghanistan parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on October 20, 2018, after undergoing a delay of almost two years. This was shared by the former Federal Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Mr Kanwar Dilshad and Mr Zardasht Shams, Afghan Deputy Head of Mission in Islamabad, while speaking at the 12th Pak-Afghan Youth Dialogue on May 9, 2018, on the theme of Electoral System and Upcoming Elections in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).
Mr Dilshad told the participants that both election commissions of Pakistan and Afghanistan over the years enjoyed cordial relations, irrespective of the tensions that remained at the state level. The former ECP official further told the participants that, in fact, during the forming of Afghan Election Commission in 2002, the Election Commission of Pakistan had provided all the possible technical support it could. He then proposed a few electoral reforms to address the lacunas in Pakistan’s electoral process, including reducing the tenure of the parliament to four years from the existing five years; this view, he stated, was also seconded and reinforced by the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly at many forums. He also proposed abolishing the quota for women and minority seats in the parliament. Instead, he stated that it should be mandatory for every contesting party to allocate 10% of the seats to women and minority contestants. He further proposed that political leaders should be allowed to function as heads of political parties for only two consecutive terms to ensure that dynastic politics does not nurture, providing the chance to the wide cross-section of the political party members to rise to the top leadership cadres.
Giving the example of Bangladesh’s electoral process, he stated that as practiced there, Pakistan also needs to adopt the option of ‘none of the above’ for voters on the ballot paper in case the voter does not like any of the candidates listed. This was suggested to the government by the ECP in the last elections but government did not take any measures in this regard. The advantage of adding this option, he stated, was that if more than 30% mark none of the above, then election would be held again in that particular constituency. Doing so would also disqualify the candidate for re-election and provide the parliamentary party to choose a more suitable replacement candidate.
Veteran journalist Mr Sarfraz Raja, shedding light on the media’s role in elections, said media’s responsibility in influencing the voter’s preferences is another aspect worth attention in the upcoming elections in both countries. He said that the 2013 elections in Pakistan witnessed intense allegations of rigging by different parties, particularly on media TV channels. Media certainly has a vital role in impacting the voter’s decision by way of their reporting style, which he said is also a way of rigging. Election rigging is one the most misunderstood phenomenon in both countries. It is not done only on the election day, but can be done in many ways through the media before the election which affect voters’ preferences, such as through airing speeches of only selected leaders, biased reporting and projecting the activities of a particular party. We need efficient managers in electoral process, not judges, he said, as judges should have none to minimal role in the whole process.
Mr Aized Ali, Project Director CRSS, told the participants that as compared to Pakistan’s Westminster Democracy, Afghanistan has a presidential form of government. Elections in Afghanistan are held on the “Two-Round System” – which include the first round of parliamentary elections and a second round for presidential elections. Unlike Pakistan, Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections are based on a non-party system contested between independents, though at times these independents can have party associations. Women are allocated 68 seats out of a total of 249 seats for the Afghan Wolesi Jirga, forming 27% of the members of parliament.
In the second round, the presidential elections are held which are directly contested between political aspirants contesting to become the president, he added. Moreover, he also shared the happenings of last Afghan presidential elections held on April 5, 2014; there were 27 candidates, out of which there was a close tie between the two major contestants – Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, resulting in Dr Abdullah refusing to accept the election results and asking for re-elections. Consequently, the Constitution of Afghanistan was amended to avoid re-elections and the post of CEO was created which saw the formation of the National Unity Government; through which Ashraf Ghani assumed the Office of the President while Dr Abdullah Abdullah became the first CEO of Afghanistan.
Mr Zardasht Shams, at the outset, stated: “It is a great pleasure for me to see so many young Pakistani and Afghan students sitting together.” He told the participants that Afghanistan is new to democracy. Historically, the country has been ruled by dynasties, monarchies, then the Soviets came and afterwards Mujahideen followed. The first Afghan presidential election was held in 2004 which was followed by elections in 2009. In 2014, when the next elections were held, despite the immense security threats by the Taliban and hurdles in logistics, he stated, the high turn-out of voters, about 60 per cent, showed the resilience and zeal of the Afghan people and the desire to have democracy continue as the only system.
Regarding the upcoming 2018 elections in Afghanistan, he said, while there may be many challenges, including the heavy expenses of elections for the 12 million registered voters of Afghanistan, as the saying goes ‘where there is a will, there is way,’ the leadership is committed, the people are hopeful and Afghanistan is looking to embark on a new future.
In response to queries from Pak-Afghan Youth about the future of Pak-Afghan bilateral relations from the participants, Mr Shams seemed very optimistic due to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Abbasi visit to Kabul last month followed by resumption of state-to-state level dialogue between the two countries. He also shared with the participants the news about a 15-member high level delegation including four deputy ministers currently visiting Pakistan on the resumption of trade talks. “In the coming weeks or months, you will hear more positive news coming out,” he concluded.
The piece originally included in The Nation