“We have all the necessary and good laws in Pakistan, but we fail to implement them!” This is a common lamentation in Pakistan. Whatever the subject is — politicians, civil society, lawyers, journalists and governmental officials make this claim. But is this true? In one area that has attracted much public controversy, this was not the case: The election laws lacked many provisions needed for credible, transparent and inclusive elections. The controversies in the 2013 elections were not simply ‘losers crying sour grapes’. Genuine shortcomings in the election laws, which undermined Pakistani elections for many years were repeatedly pointed out by civil society, observers and eventually also confirmed in the inquiry commission setup to investigate the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) accusations of systemic rigging in 2013 general elections. The Commission found no systematic rigging but pointed to many systemic problems.
The controversies after the 2013 elections costs the country a lot of political energy that would have been better spent on fixing other problems, but they had an upshot. They resulted in a perfect storm of public pressure that fed into a well-run parliamentary process to fix the election laws. The parliament of Pakistan did what previously seemed impossible and formed a Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, in-line with the recommendation of election observers. The cross-chamber committee and its sub-committee conducted 119 meetings altogether, heard civil society organisations, met with experts and drafted a new election law, which was enacted by Parliament on October 2, 2017.
The new law addresses many core election issues: it provides greater autonomy and strengthens the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)while at the same time introducing important transparency and accountability provisions; it formalises use of citizens registry data for creating electoral rolls and simplifies voters’ registration; improves measures for poll counting and tabulation of results; and it includes guarantees to make sure that constituencies have more or less the same number of voters so that the vote of each Pakistani counts equally.