FEDERAL Minister Fawad Chaudhry has once again asked the opposition to cooperate with the government in order to bring about electoral reforms. He highlighted the importance of electoral reforms by saying that only by implementing them could the next elections be held in a free and fair manner so that the winner can form the next government. Speaking to the media in Lahore, the minister also reiterated that the judicial system is in a shambles and needs reforms. He argued that such reform in the judicial system can only happen if the government, the opposition and the judiciary sit together. He then emphasised that the ECP also requires reforms as was evidenced by the fact that the Senate elections as well as the Daska by-elections were marred by controversy.
The minister has a point. One of the biggest failures of Pakistan’s political system is its inability to hold credible and transparent elections. There are multiple reasons for this failure, including the heavy interference of the establishment, but the most important factor is that political parties have not been able to forge a consensus on the reforms required to safeguard against electoral malpractice. This in turn is a by-product of the acute polarisation that has become a hallmark of the country’s politics. This dangerously volatile partisanship — which often plays out at the expense of a functional relationship — is possibly the biggest hurdle that stops political stakeholders from sitting across the table and getting the work of such reforms done. It is now easy for Mr Chaudhry and his party to argue for these reforms, but the PTI conveniently forgets that it is primarily responsible for vitiating the atmosphere both inside and outside parliament. It is also a bit rich of Mr Chaudhry to claim the high moral ground on electoral reforms when he and his colleagues only a few weeks back were sitting in Daska and defending the disgraced election.
If the government is serious about initiating these reforms, and is not playing to the gallery as it has done so far, then its ministers need to move beyond press statements and initiate contact with the opposition through proper parliamentary channels. PTI leaders should realise that governments carry the responsibility of engaging the opposition in parliamentary business, and doing so requires climbing down from the high horse that PTI believes it has been riding on. Senior members from the treasury benches therefore need to make a concerted effort — sans insults and taunts — to convince the opposition to start a formal exercise of reviewing all electoral laws and aiming to reform them by consensus. This is necessary to ensure that the next general elections carry the stamp of approval from all political stakeholders. There is time available to get this task done if the government can display the seriousness that is so far missing.