10 lessons Pakistan can learn from the 2015 Turkish General Elections

Screenshot 2015-05-30 17.37.50Published  in Express Blogs on June 10, 2015 

Supporters waving the National Flag in Turkey General Elections 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

The 24th general elections of the Republic of Turkey were held on June 7, 2015, to elect 550 members of the Grand National Assembly. The election left many surprised as it resulted in the first hung parliament in Turkey since 1999.

However, from a purely Pakistani perspective, there are many lessons to draw, some which have been mentioned here:

1) The ruling party should not be over-confident

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has governed Turkey since 2002 and won its fourth consecutive election this time. However, it lost its parliamentary majority as its total seats dropped from 311 to 258. Thus AKP, despite winning the elections failed miserably to meet President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitious target of getting 400 MPs elected.

Lesson: In politics, caution needs to be exercised before showing over-confidence, making tall claims and announcing ambitious plans.

2) Minority parties need to be taken seriously

There has been a visible decline in the popularity of top political parties. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) remained the second largest party, but slipped below. On the contrary, minor parties showed significant improvement. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Kurdish-supported Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) unexpectedly won 80 seats each.

Lesson: Minor political parties can have significant local support due to various affiliations and hence need to be taken seriously for any possible alliance in future.

3) Infrastructural spending is not a recipe for success

From 2002 to 2012, under AKP’s rule, Turkey saw huge infrastructural development. The number of universities increased from 98 to 186. The total length of paved roads and highways constructed in last 10 years exceeds 13, 000 kilometres and a total of 24 airports were also constructed during the same period.

Lesson: Infrastructural development might be an important tool for gaining public support but there is no guarantee that it will translate into votes.

4) Election of women

For the first time since the establishment of the Grand National Assembly, a total of 97 women have been elected as MPs in Turkey.This means women will roughly form one-fifth of the Turkish parliament, which is an impressive achievement.

Lesson: Although in Pakistan significant steps towards women empowerment have been taken through reserved seats  in the parliament, yet more measures need to be taken in highlighting the equality of women.

5) Voting rights to overseas citizens

In 2014, during the presidential elections, Turkish nationals living abroad were allowed the right to vote. In recent elections, the votes from the Turk diaspora in Germany, France and other European countries played a critical role in the formation of the 2015 Parliament.

Lesson: In Pakistan, overseas Pakistanis should also be allowed to be a part of the electoral process and cast their votes.

6) Media censorship simply won’t work

A prominent reason for AKP’s comparative downfall can be attributed greatly to its harsh media policy. During its last decade, Turkey’s ranking in the Press Freedom Index has dropped from 100 to 149. According to sources, till date, 63 journalists have been sentenced to almost 32 years in prison.

Lesson: In the era of information, such practices are a sure-shot attempt for political suicide.

7) Influence of religious movements

The Gülen Movement in Turkey is a religious and social movement led by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The movement has initiated forums for interfaith dialogues. Some have praised the movement as an alternative to more extreme schools of Islam such as Salafism. The movement has a significant following; AKP lost its support from the Gullen Movement in recent years due to various reasons – which led to them losing their majority in the Parliament.

Lesson: In Pakistan, religious parties operating under political or social umbrellas can help make or break a mainstream political party.

8) Regional grievances need to be addressed

One of the sore point for any Turkish government is the dispute of Kurdistan in Southeast Turkey which has so far resulted in about 40,000 deaths. In this regard, AKP has few successes to its credit. Kurdish was incorporated as a national language and the development budget for the region was significantly increased, but it did not help much.

Lesson: Issues revolving around regions such as, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Southern Punjab, Interior Sindh and tribal areas need to be addressed to strengthen the federation.

9) Foreign policy should be loud and clear

Over the last few years, Turkey’s foreign policies have been noteworthy, which has been one of AKP’s strong suits. Most remarkably, despite maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel, it has shown overt support for the Palestinian cause. Similarly, Turkey under AKP government has raised concern on the military coup in Egypt on overthrowing of a democratically-elected government.

Lesson: Doubt or indecisiveness in foreign policy damages the credibility of an elected government and this can have a significant bearing on future elections.

10) Desperate attempts for “change” without support

AKP has strongly campaigned to write a new constitution to bolster the powers of the country’s presidential office. It needed at least 330 seats to unilaterally initiate such a change. All the other three main parties are against a presidential system. With the recent loss of a clear majority, hope for the emergence of a presidential system in Turkey is gradually fading.

Lesson: It is pragmatic to build a coalition to mark a lasting political change in the adventure of elections.

Turkey is one of the most successful modern democracies. Since Pakistan shares a special relationship with Turkey and its people, it is important we pay heed to the lessons Turkey’s General Election 2015 has to teach us.

Electronic Voting: Would it work in Pakistan?

seedhi baat Originally published in Seedhi Baat .com.pk on  15 April 2013.

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With the caretaker set up in place, millions of Pakistanis are soon going to the polls. However for an election that is taking place in this day and age, it is unfortunate that we are still relying on the age old voting techniques instead of using the cutting edge technology available to us.  So while we are still following the traditional route, let’s have a look at how the rest of the world is harnessing the potential of technology to conduct more economical, fair and transparent elections.

To begin with 2 important parameters in an electoral process are the “vote casting” and the “vote counting “processes. Based upon these two parameters the electoral process can be categorized into four types.

First is the Manual voting system, which is essentially a paper-based voting system in which votes are cast and counted manually, with no involvement of any mechanical or electronic machine.

Second system is the Mechanical voting system which reduces the human involvement in an electoral process to a certain extent. Normally in such a system the ballots are cast manually but counting is done through a specialized counting device..

The third type of voting is the electronic voting system. The term includes different methods of voting and encompasses the electronic means of casting and counting votes. The most commonly adopted version is a Direct Recording Electronic System which is essentially a standalone or networked computer. Voters can view ballots on a screen and make choices using input devices like buttons or a touch screen. Electronic Votes are stored on a memory card, compact disc and are transferred electronically or manually to a centralized location for counting.

Fourth type or the ideal type of voting system so far would be a public Internet voting system that could allow the voters to cast their votes over the internet from their desktops, laptops or mobile phones. In this system the casting as well as counting would be over a secure network and physical presence of a voter will not be required.

Although the first mechanized voting device was patented in 1892 but for nearly a century the United States was the only country using automated voting equipment. Over the years significant efforts had been carried out to develop and implement a voting system commensurate with modern technology in other  parts of the world .Few of the important mile stones achieved by different countries in last two decades  are:-

  • Brazil introduced e-voting for its Parliament elections in 1996.
  • First Internet Voting trial in Germany was conducted in 1998.
  • Seven French cities in 1999 tested Internet Voting during the European Parliament Elections.
  • Several states in the US implemented and run Internet Voting in 2000.
  • In 2007, Parliament elections in Estonia were conducted through Internet voting.
  • In 2008, German constitutional court ruling demanded transparency and verification mechanisms as an essential requirement for e-voting.
  • The Netherlands banned the use of electronic voting machines in 2008.
  • More recently Norway introduced Internet voting at the municipal elections and Swiss living abroad were able to cast their vote over the Internet.

Electronic Voting –Success Stories

Philippines Presidential Elections           

In the 2010 presidential elections of Philippines, optical scanning machines were used for the first time to automate the election process. More than 38 million Filipinos had their votes counted by optical scanning machines. This success of 2010 Filipino elections was rooted in a devastating presidential election six years earlier in 2004.  The hall mark of this system was the independent testing and software code review process to develop the trust of the voters on the system. The e-voting system helped Filipinos know the winner of the presidential election within 48 hours after the polls closed. Transparency, speed and the trust of people made the election a success.

Brazilian Success in e-Voting     

Brazilians have a comparatively longer history and interest in electronic voting. The process started back in 1986 when the Superior Electoral Court initiated the automation process by establishing single national registration numbers, which replaced the existing voter’s certificate. At that time with 70 million registered voters, it was the largest electronic registry of voters in Latin America. In the 1998 General Election, two thirds of all Brazilian voters had already voted electronically, because of the establishment of electronic ballot boxes. However, the electronic voting system project reached its peak in the 2000 Municipal Elections, which covered 100% of Brazilian voters. Later in 2008, a Biometric Voting System was introduced in the Municipal Elections to enhance the security of the voting.  In the 2010 general elections, more than one million Brazilians voted through biometrics. According to a survey, 88% of the voters rated the system as good or excellent quality of work.

It can be concluded that the electronic voting has many advantages apart from few limitations.

For Pakistan unfortunately the elections of 2013 have to be conducted in almost a century old manner. May be in the future we can finally start moving towards the transparent electronic voting system.

BRAZIL’s Road Map to Electronic Voting – Lessons for Pakistan

pic Originally published in The News Tribe on  Mar 27th, 2013

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Computerization and automation of Brazil‘s Electoral system provides many interesting lessons for Pakistan. The benefits of electronic voting were identified by Brazil as early as in 1986. Over the years this South American country has evolved a highly successful model of implementing electronic voting at the level of municipal as well as general elections.

The Brazilian electronic voting system has proved that it is reliable, transparent and fast. In Brazil the Superior Electoral Court is responsible for the conduct of elections. According to a survey of 2009 it was regarded as one of the most trustworthy institution of the country. Few of the important milestones achieved by Brazil during transformation of electoral process in last two decades are as following:-

Mile stone # 1 (1986) – Voter’s Electronic Registration
The voters’ registration is one of the very basic requirements of any electoral process. The manual or physical registration of voters is not only time consuming but it is more prone to fake entries leading to bogus votes. The Brazilian Superior Electoral Court in 1986 identified this important area and established a single national registration system by replacing the older system of voter’s certificate. It soon became one of the largest electronic registries of voters.

Mile stone # 2 (1994) – Secure Data Transmission Network
For any electronic voting system to function in an efficient and transparent manner a secure and reliable data transmission network needs to be in place. By 1994 General Election, the Superior Electoral Court of Brazil created a data transmission network that enabled electronic communication of information among the responsible agencies. Initially the network was utilized for the verification and release of election results. In practice, votes casted in ballot boxes were verified and transmitted to the Regional Electoral Courts which were then retransmitted to the Superior Electoral Court for tabulation and the release of the results.

Mile stone # 3 (1996) – Introducing Electronic Ballot Boxes
In 1996, Superior Electoral Court constituted a technical group in order to prepare the Electronic Ballot Boxes. The project was completed within five months. For the first time electronic voting was successfully implemented in one third of the Brazilian electorate during the 1996 Municipal Elections.

Mile stone # 4 (1998)- Increased Electronic Voting
During the General Elections of 1998, nearly 75 million or two thirds of all Brazilian voters voted through the electronic ballot boxes.

Mile stone # 5 (2000 )- 100 % Electronic Voting
In the year 2000, Brazilian electronic voting project achieved the important mile stone during the Municipal Elections. In these elections 100% of voters, i.e. About 110,000,000 Brazilians were empowered to cast their vote electronically.

Mile stone # 6 (2004/2005/2006 )- Reliable Electronic Voting
Ø In the first round of the municipal elections of 2004, with an electorate of 119 million people, more than 402 thousand electronic ballot boxes were used.
Ø In the referendum of October 23rd, 2005, 95,375,824 people were able to vote electronically. Nearly 406 thousand voting machines were used, guaranteeing, once more, the agility in the counting and security to the vote.
Ø In the general elections of 2006, the counting in record time confirmed the electronic voting system to be adopted in Brazil.

Mile stone # 7 (2008) – Biometric Voting System
A leap forward was taken in the Municipal Elections of 2008 by introducing a Biometric Voting System in order to enhance the security of the voting system. Voters were identified by their fingerprints, which provided a precise identification of the voters. This significantly reduced the possibility of fraud.

Mile stone # 8 (2009) – Verification of the System
Due to increased public interest in the verification of the electronic voting system, public security tests of the election were conducted in 2009 with investigators coming from accredited national and international organizations. This demonstrated the security and inviolability of the Brazilian electronic voting system. According to a survey in 2008, 97 percent of voters approved of the Electronic Ballot box.

Mile stone # 9 (2010)
In the 2010 general elections, more than one million Brazilians identified themselves and voted through biometrics in more than 60 municipalities. According to a survey, 88% of the voters rated the system as good or excellent quality of work.

Mile stone #10 –Yet to Come
Keeping in view the track record of Brazilian in the field of electronic voting it can be claimed that something better would definitely show up once the General elections are held in 2014.

Conclusion
Few of the observations made by the Brazilians due to their Electronic Voting experience are:

  • Introduction of a major technical change like of electronic ballot boxes was not obstacle to voters.
    Ø Voters were facilitated in terms of small lines and swift process.
    Ø A harmonious s relation among voters, inspectors, and elections workers was observed.
    Ø The absence of military force in the streets, demonstrated the confidence of voters, candidates and parties in the performance of the Electoral Voting system.
    Ø Credibility in the new electronic voting process as a result of the impossibility of frauds.

In order to ensure the transparency and security of the Brazilian electronic voting system the relevant parties and authorities are given an advance access to election software for the purpose of conducting inspections and audits before the election. The software is then introduced, compiled and digitally signed by representatives of the political parties and the authorities. After this the software is secured in the Superior Electoral Court.

10 lessons Pakistan can learn from the UK general elections 2015

Screenshot 2015-05-30 17.37.50 Originally published in Express Tribune Blogs on 14 May 2015.

On May 7, 2015, the 56th general elections of the United Kingdom were held to elect 650 members to the House of Commons. Victory of ruling Conservative (Tory) Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, surprised many.

However, from purely a Pakistani perspective, there are many lessons to draw. Ten of them are mentioned here:

1. As a party leader, if you lose, you resign

This might sound alien to Pakistani ears, yet it is true. Unlike the land of the pure, ethics is a hall mark of British politics. For me, as a Pakistani, it was quite surprising that within hours of election results, party leaders of all three major parties – Labour, UK Independent Party and Liberal Democrats – resigned, taking full responsibility of their party’s defeat.

Now imagine this in a Pakistani context, where winning or losing an election cannot affect the party leadership in any way. Mostly it is death that does them apart and even after death there are bright chances that political leadership would be inherited.

Ed Miliband (L) and Asif Ali Zardari

2. The ruling can rule again

Unlike in Pakistan, where political parties come to power one after another, UK general elections 2015 hinted that a ruling party can reclaim its victory depending upon performance and popularity. In fact, the ruling Conservative Party gained 24 more seats from the previous elections.

In a Pakistani scenario, it is normally assumed that the party already in power would have to wait for a five-year term to pass. Our parties hardly make it for successive two terms atnational levels. The one thing Pakistan can learn from UK elections is that, in politics, parties should keep playing the musical chairs game – sometime, they should aim at staying on and making the difference they aspire to make.

David Cameron (L) and Yousaf Raza Gilani

3. The third-party factor can be surprising

What UK is experiencing with regards to the landslide victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) winning 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland, Pakistanis had a similar experience in recent past with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In 2013, PTI came forth as a powerful third party and surprised many. Although their victory was not comprehensive enough to claim power at national level, yet their presence was felt across the national political scene.

Be it PTI in 2013 or SNP in 2015, a lesson from Edinburg to Peshawar is that third parties with regional dominance can surprise old and well-established political parties. Taking them lightly can be a political disaster.

Nicola Sturgeon (L) and Imran Khan

4. Polls and pundits can go wrong

As BBC’s Nick Robinson put it succinctly,

“No pollster, no pundit, no political leader saw it coming”.

Prior to the UK elections, all polls, surveys and pundits agreed that it would be a neck-to-neck election between the two major parties. However, no one anticipated majority for one single party. To say the least, anybody hardly anticipated the Tories’ great come back with 24 more seats.

Lesson for Pakistan’s media savvy public and politicians is that polls, surveys or analysis of political pundits might educate you about certain trends in a forthcoming election, but onElection Day, things can go south for them.

Photo: Reuters

5. Social media might be spectacular but it is insignificant

Perhaps the most important question in the UK these days is,

“Did something happen online which influenced the voters?”

Significant attempts were made in the current UK elections to change people’s minds. This includes Ed Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand – which was watched over one million times on YouTube, the creation of hastags like #Milifandom and #Cameronettes, and the usage of #GE2015 by almost 500,000 uses in one week alone. However, even with Miliband’s social media presence, it didn’t do much to change the voters’ opinion.

And this is exactly what happened in Pakistan too. The dominance of one particular party onsocial media during the 2013 general elections did not translate into votes and this is where politicians need to set their priorities right. For a country like Pakistan, with a rapidly growing user-base of social media, it’s important to realise that social media might be spectacular yet it is insignificant to affect the final outcomes of an election.

6. Young people can make history

One of the biggest upsets of the UK general elections is the victory of 20-year-old student,Mhairi Black, from SNP. She is Britain’s youngest lawmaker since 1667.

Being a woman of such a young age, Black is surely an inspiration for Pakistani women interested in politics. If steered and guided appropriately, Pakistani young women could make history too like her.

Pakistani political parties need to promote young and educated women – and no, opportunities should not be limited only to women with well-connected families or established political background. All women should be allowed to pursue their dreams.

SNP’s Mhairi Black. Photo: AFP

7. Muslim women in politics – the legacy of Benazir continues

As the first female prime minister of a Muslim country, Benazir Bhutto’s legacy serves as a beacon for Muslim women in politics across the globe. In the 2015 elections, 13 Muslim MPshave managed to win in their constituencies. While in the House of Commons this might not be a significant number, yet the presence of eight women among them is impressive. For the first time in history of UK, a total of 193 women would be MPs this time.

Pakistan needs to draw significant lessons for women empowerment through representation.

Top, from left to right: Tasmina Ahmed-Shaikh, Naseem Shah, Nusrat Ghani, Shabana Mahmood. Bottom, from left to right: Tulip Siddiq, Rupa Huq, Roshanara Ali, Yasmin Qureshi.

8. Humpty Dumpties can have a great fall

The defeats of big wigs like George Galloway, Ed Balls, Nigel Farage and many others underscore that politics is a cruel business that can be very mean at times.

An obvious lesson for Pakistani politicians is that no one is larger than life, at least in politics. If you perform, deliver and satisfy the voters, you have bright chances of survival. Otherwise, the same people would cast their vote, look straight into your eyes and say,

“Next please”.

From left to right: Ed Balls, Nigel Farage, Asfandyar Wali Khan and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi

9. For elections, media power is good but real politics is better

George Galloway, founder of the Respect Party and a former MP of the British parliament, has enjoyed more media projection than any of his contemporaries, for various reasons. He is a pro-Palestine supporter and he also hosts a show on Iranian press TV – which makes him controversial as well famous. However, his defeat to a Pakistani-origin female candidate in Bradford is an eye-opener.

A simple lesson for Pakistani politicians is that perception management through media can help only to a certain extent. So while one may keep one head above the clouds and use themedia as their mouthpiece, real politics requires ones ‘feet on the ground’. This holds true for Pakistani parties whose leaders are not in sync with their people.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (L) and George Galloway

10. Regional grievance need to be addressed

The landslide victory of SNP in Scotland needs deliberation. UK is working towards its regional issues.

In a Pakistani context, the underlying message is loud and clear. If grievances at regional levels – albeit the Hazara community, the Siraki belt, Gilgit-Baltistan or Balochistan – are not addressed, the reaction could surface politically at a national level.

SNP leadership (L) and Mama Qadeer

The United Kingdom is one of the oldest democracies in the world. If we really wish to entail all democratic procedures in Pakistan and make ourselves better as a democratic country, then it would do well for us to pay heed to the UK general elections. There is a lot more that we can learn from them. All we have to do is look in the right direction, with the right perspective.

7 Reasons for Pakistani Women to Vote This Time

Screenshot 2015-05-28 01.11.01 Originally published in The News Blogs on  15 Apr 2013

women-vote (1)

Elections in Pakistan are due by next month. Although casting of vote is every citizen’s responsibility and there should be no gender discrimination whatsoever in this regard. However following are the eight special reasons for Pakistani women to vote this time: –

A Gossiping Opportunity

What more a women can ask for, than to talk endlessly with her gender mates. The Election Day presents a golden opportunity for gossiping and making new friends while waiting for the turn to vote. Thus ladies can freely discuss the problems of children, happenings in popular soaps and T.V serials, new recipes, latest fashion trends, guidelines for keeping a vigilant eye on ‘him’, deteriorating standard of education in schools , commodity price hikes and the all time favorite to crib about in laws. Thus wise ladies will not miss this once in a five-year gossiping opportunity to speak their hearts out and make new friends.

Summer Fashion Fiesta

A good thing about the upcoming elections in Pakistan is that they are being held on the start of summer season. For the fashion savvy ladies this is an excellent chance to try their wardrobe’s latest addition. Few hours spend at polling station would offer a unique opportunity to get a feeling of ongoing fashion trends. This could prove to be a much more enlightening experience than any fashion magazine, T.V show or a marriage ceremony. The Election Day would be an appropriate occasion to make a fashion statement through sunglasses, umbrellas, bags, cell phones and other accessories. Above all this once in a five-year time fashion get-together is free of cost and hence should not be missed at all.

Why to spend a dull holiday at home….

Whether a workingwoman, dedicated house wife or a college / university student, a Pakistani woman is bound to be a busy bee.  She is most likely to spend her holiday at home by engaging in routine tasks of housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, watching T.V, visiting friends, neighbors or relatives .Why not to break the dull and boring routine and go out for casting the vote. The routine chores can wait for the next holiday.

Exercising the “Influence” and using the “Women Power” …….

Women in Pakistan are influential in every role. As loving mothers, dedicated housewives, caring sisters or adoring daughters they are hard to neglect. Election Day gives enough leverage to Pakistani women to exercise their influence on the sluggish gender. Thus women can not only motivate but also insist and “order” the males to escort them to the polling station for casting the vote. The voting day can truly be a “Women’s Day” only if they realize and use their influence.

The Decision Maker’s vote for selecting the Decision Makers….

From managing home economics, to raising the kids and making key family decisions women are normally at the epi center of most important affairs encircling our lives. Being the primary customer (decision maker) for the consumers (members of family) her small and large decisions are vital. Thus as a decision maker in routine life, it is imperative to have her say in selecting the decision makers at a larger level. This factor in a way makes the importance of women vote “more” than men’s vote. 

·Majority Vote Bank….

The process of democracy starts with the casting of vote under free and fair elections. Vote casting is done to select capable individuals and the lynch pin of this political process hinges on the “majority” of votes. Pakistani women being 52 % are in majority and thus the burden of casting vote on the Pakistani women, in a responsible manner is more than on men.

Grooming today’s children for  future….

It might require a professionally designed research to ascertain how children are influenced, once parents go through a voting process and share the experience with them. Since in most of the cases children are influenced by mothers, so a woman casting her vote is in fact educating her children about the importance of voting. This can be a one way to groom today’s children as responsible citizens of tomorrow.

Voting by Women……A liberating Experience…

The voting experience by women provides them an opportunity to become an active stakeholder rather than passive followers. Voting empowers her to liberate and form her own opinion. Once cast her vote she can more confidently comment, criticize and appreciate the performance of the candidates once they resume offices. Thus voting by a woman is a liberating experience.

Keeping in view the past electoral experiences of Pakistan, this time every eligible Pakistani woman should make an endeavor to cast her vote responsibly. May be the majority vote of women could put a country so full of potential; on the right track that which had been ruined over the years mainly by the minority gender!