Posts Tagged ‘Elections’

Delimitation and Equal Representation of the Urban Vote

January 21, 2018

By Anjum Altaf

Gerrymander

It should be obvious that alternative ways of drawing constituency boundaries can significantly influence electoral outcomes. An historical example can make the point: the 2003 redistricting (the term used in the U.S.) in Texas, spanning the 2002 and 2004 elections, changed the composition of its delegation to the U.S. Congress from 15 Republicans and 17 Democrats to 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats (1).

It is no wonder that redistricting is a hot issue in the U.S. whose fairness has been the subject of repeated Supreme Court reviews. There the deliberate manipulation of boundaries to influence electoral outcomes, termed gerrymandering, is along two lines – favouring one party over another, as in the case mentioned above, or attempting to reduce the representation of racial minorities (2).

In this context it is surprising to find no analysis of past practise in Pakistan nor much interest now that we are undergoing the process after a gap of nearly 20 years. This could suggest universal agreement on the fairness of the delimitation process in the country. Even so, one should be curious to know if any biases exist in past exercises and how they have evolved under changing demographics over time.

Continuing urbanization suggests the issue could be important with the distinct possibility that the urban population is under-represented in the legislature. Historical parallels can be employed again to underscore the relevance. The 1919 election in Germany is considered the first truly fair one because it was the first held after scrapping constituencies that grossly over-represented rural areas (3). In India, where about a third of the overall population is recorded as urban, only about 85 of the 543 constituencies for the Lok Sabha, or under 15 per cent, have a majority urban population (4, 5).

How can such under-representation of the urban electorate come about? Simply, by “splitting” the urban population into a number of seats most of which have rural majorities. This can be shown easily with an hypothetical example. Imagine a district with a population of 4 million including a city of 1 million and suppose the population per electoral seat is also 1 million yielding a total of 4 seats for the district. Constituency boundaries can be drawn such that there is a constituency with an urban population of 1 million and 3 constituencies with rural populations of a million each. On the other hand, the urban population can be split to yield the following 4 constituencies (populations in millions with U and R representing urban and rural shares, respectively) (i) .3U, .7R; (ii) .3U, .7R; (iii) .4U, .6R; (iv) 0U, 1R.

The urban population is fairly represented in the first case – 25% of the population having 25% of the seats. With the second set, it is completely unrepresented with no seats at all. The actual situation in Pakistan is likely to be one, as in India, where the urban population is considerably under-represented in the legislature.   

Asides from the fact that urban-based political parties have much to lose from dilution of the urban vote, there are other negative consequences of such under-representation, if it exists. First, the constitution guarantees each citizen a vote of equal value and under-representation devalues that of the urban citizen. Second, Election Commission guidelines stipulate that constituencies be demarcated such that homogeneity of the community is ensured. Urban and rural communities are, however, very heterogeneous and one can expect a representative dependent on a rural majority to neglect the interests of the rump of urban voters in his/her constituency (6).

It can be inferred from the above that unless cities and towns acquire a political voice commensurate with their numbers they will lack the attention they need to serve their residents nor get the resource allocations needed for national development. The latter is relevant since almost three-fourths of gross domestic output of the country now emanates from urban areas.

Over the years observers have noted the persistent dominance of “feudals” in legislatures, the term used loosely to denote members of notable families repeatedly elected on the basis of dependent clienteles that are much more a feature of rural than urban demographics. Since such rural clienteles are easier to control it is natural that the beneficiaries would not want the status quo to change in their constituencies. It is therefore reasonable to speculate that medium and small urban centers would be split almost entirely into constituencies with rural majorities, a speculation supported by their condition. Only a rigorous study can provide the evidence for a correction like the one that marked the beginning of fair representation in Germany.

It is also of interest to consider why delimitation or redistricting is so contentious in the U.S. and so ignored in Pakistan. It could be because there are easier alternatives available to the establishment and political parties to influence electoral outcomes in Pakistan – these include, rigging, bribing, inducing military takeovers, and outright dismissals of governments. No such measures are available to political parties in the U.S. forcing them to rely on indirect methods like redistricting and the Electoral College. It is therefore not a surprise that in the US the redistricting process has been retained under the political control of state legislatures while most other countries, including Pakistan, have  transferred it to the jurisdiction of neutral commissions.

This last observation raises a related issue meriting attention in Pakistan. Election laws stipulate that electoral constituencies should preferably lie within district boundaries which means that creating new districts perforce necessitates delimitation. Since creating new districts is a political prerogative in Pakistan one can speculate that it could have had underlying electoral imperatives. A retrospective study could test this hypothesis since the stated rationale of better governance advanced for the creation of new districts cannot bear the weight of objective evidence.

An analytical exercise seems warranted with the objective of ensuring that election outcomes reflect the popular will and that the preferences of voters are translated faithfully into policy outcomes. Both these are dependent on unbiased representation (7).

References

1. Handley, Lisa. “Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration: Boundary Delimitation”  in Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration (IFES, 2007), p. 59-74. Accessed at: https://ifes.org/sites/default/files/4_ifes_challenging_election_norms_and_standards_wp_bndel.pdf

2. Roth, Zachary. “Will the Court Kill the Gerrymander,” New York Review of Books, January 11, 2018. Accessed at: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/01/11/will-the-court-kill-the-gerrymander/

3. German Federal Elections, 1919. Wikipedia. Accessed at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_federal_election,_1919 

4. Lall, Rajiv. “AAP and the Politics of Urbanization,” January 15, 2014. Accessed at: http://smartinvestor.business-standard.com/pf/Pfnews-221727-Pfnewsdet-Rajiv_Lall_AAP_and_the_politics_of_urbanisation.htm#.WmQ9G9WWbrd

5. Kumar, Sanjay. “Delimitation of Constituencies,” in The Hindu, September 17, 2001. Accessed at: http://www.thehindu.com/2001/09/17/stories/05172524.htm

6. Election Commission of Pakistan. “How to Demarch Constituencies,” 2017. Accessed at: https://www.ecp.gov.pk/frmGenericPage.aspx?PageID=3049

7. Verma, A.K. “Delimitation in India: Methodological Issues,” in Economic and Political Weekly, March 4, 2006. Accessed at: http://www.democracy-asia.org/resourcesondemocracy/Delimitation%20in%20India%20-Methodological%20Issues_akverma.pdf

The writer was dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS and is currently a fellow at the Consortium for Development Policy Research in Lahore, Pakistan. This opinion was published in Dawn on January 20, 2018 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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Democracy in Distress

June 27, 2016

By Anjum Altaf 

Over two thousand years ago Plato was skeptical of democracy because he felt that voters, even those restricted to property-owning male citizens, were swayed too easily by the rhetoric of self-serving politicians.

Democracy disappeared for over 1,500 years following its demise in Athens and it was only then that its slow evolution began in England and spread to other parts of the world. Doubts regarding its efficacy persisted but were countered by arguments that it was the worst form of government except for all others.

Not that this was considered universally applicable – during colonialism it was openly asserted that natives were not ready for democracy. Similar reservations regarding the developing world persisted beyond the end of colonialism. In the 1990s the late Richard Holbrooke was reported to have said: “Suppose elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists — that is the dilemma.”

We rightly attribute these attitudes to the realpolitik that rationalized empire-building and later interventions to replace democratic governments with pliant authoritarian ones. They were just as self-serving as their more recent converse – regime-change with the professed aim of promoting democracy.

Nevertheless, the intellectual challenge to democracy was unaddressed – after all Hitler was popularly elected and voters have often elected leaders who they themselves condemn as thieves and rascals. Genuine doubts regarding the capacity of the electoral process to yield competent leadership remain and the democratic experiment is not old enough to argue unequivocally that the case is closed.

The revival of this debate now is due to the turmoil in the democratic homeland – governmental gridlock, the surge in extremist sentiment all over Europe, and the emergence of Trump as a presidential candidate in the US. As one comment put it: “With a vain fool like Trump on the political stage in America and racist bigots and know-nothings voting all over the world it’s a good time to ponder the wisdom of the political systems that allow this to happen.”

In this context the political theorist Daniel Bell has made waves with his book, The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, in which he has questioned the article of faith that one-person-one-vote is the best way of selecting leaders. He offers as a credible alternative the still-evolving Chinese model based on democratic local elections and meritocratic selection of top national leaders. In this system, local leaders handling basic issues of service delivery remain accountable to voters but national leaders who need to make complex and unpopular decisions are chosen based on knowledge and experience.

Similar reservations about democratic decision-making have been expressed more recently by Richard Dawkins with reference to the British referendum on EU membership. Dawkins asks: “How should I know? I don’t have a degree in economics. Or history. How dare you entrust such an important decision to ignoramuses like me… You want your surgeon to know anatomy… Why would you entrust your country’s economic and political future to know-nothing voters like me?”

Heated exchanges on the relative merits of Western and Asian values had erupted a few decades back in the wake of the East Asian crisis but the self-serving claims lacked objectivity. The challenge from scholars like Bell and Dawkins carries more legitimacy because they do not have political or economic interests at stake.

The point of airing this argument is not to assert that democracy in Pakistan should be replaced by military dictatorship or monarchy. Rather, it is to urge a critical examination of the rules underpinning the electoral process by which leaders are selected and made accountable. Much has changed since the birth of democracy in England – corporations more powerful than many countries did not exist then and neither did the means of swaying voters now available. With the visible transition of democracy to plutocracy in the US and the dangerous manipulation of extremist sentiments, it should be obvious that reforms are required to repair the systemic distortions that have accrued over time.

Electoral systems are nothing more than sets of rules. Consider some that exist in the US – primaries to select party candidates, first-past-the-post elections, super delegates with decisive power, the Electoral College, and the treatment of corporations as individuals. Change any of these and the outcomes could be different. At the same time, failure to agree on rules can have tragic outcomes as witnessed in the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

Debates are structured around ideas and critical ideas are nurtured in schools and colleges that have failed to do an adequate job in Pakistan. It is no wonder that our popular discourse remains mired in a simplistic choice between democracy and dictatorship ignoring the hard work of assessing the set of electoral reforms that would improve governance and promote leaders that are more competent and accountable to citizens.

This op-ed was published in Dawn on June 26, 2016 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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Leaders

Reading the Elections in Bihar

November 13, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

Could the 2015 state election in Bihar signify anything about the future of politics in India? It could, and I want to draw out that possibility by linking this analysis to a previous one related to the equally surprising outcome in Delhi earlier in the year (Electoral Choices). Very briefly, the point made was that while the BJPs share of the vote between the elections of 2014 and 2015 in Delhi remained the same, about a third, its share of the seats dropped sharply from 52 percent to 4 percent. This, it was argued, was a vagary of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method of election in vogue in a very few countries in which the candidate with a simple plurality of the votes in a constituency is declared the winner.

Now look at the parallels in Bihar between the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2015 state elections. For the BJP, the share of votes dropped from 29 percent to 24 percent while its share of seats dropped from 55 percent to 22 percent. For the RJD, the share of votes dropped from 20 percent to 18 percent but the share of seats increased from 20 percent to 33 percent. For the JD-U, the share of votes increased from 16 percent to 17 percent while the share of seats increased from 10 percent to 29 percent.

It is clear that while the vote shares remained relatively stable, the share of seats was much more volatile. Once again, the outcome was dependent on the idiosyncrasy of the FPTP system. The simple explanation is that in 2014 the RJD and JD-U votes were divided while in 2015 they were pooled.

This highlights very starkly the ugly underside of the FPTP system in a country like India and the almost exclusive focus it directs towards the making and breaking of electoral coalitions by foul means or fair. This was clear even in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where the BJP engineered communal tensions in the swing states of UP and Bihar to break opposing coalitions. It became even clearer in the 2015 state elections in Bihar. As soon as the BJP felt its development plank failing to resonate with voters it fell back on the tactic of attempting to split the opposition by lighting communal fires. First, the task was outsourced to the second-tier leadership which came up with some truly bizarre scenarios but when the margin continued to shrink the sab ka saath Prime Minister himself weighed in with references to the appeasement of some communities at the expense of others. In doing so, he became a fellow traveler, very ironically, of none other than Bibi Netanyahu with the latter’s fear mongering of the other community voting in droves and even being responsible for the Holocaust itself.

Be that as it may, our emphasis here is less on the collateral damage and more on the likely implication of the Bihar outcome for the future of electoral politics in India. Now that it has become obvious beyond doubt that the way to best the BJP is by putting together strong coalitions, one is quite likely to see a repeat of the same in elections to come. Here, one must note that the stability of the winning coalition in Bihar required that personal egos be set aside – the RJD agreed up front to yield the leadership to the JD-U and the once-mighty INC was content with being a junior partner.

While this could set the pattern in the state elections to come, there is no straightforward extrapolation to elections to the Lok Sabha where one might be faced with the incongruous situation of not having a single party with a significant national following. The INC has already been decimated and there are no signs of its early revival. The Left parties are also on the ropes. If the BJP loses popularity by virtue of faltering on its development promise, which is quite likely given the mismatch between the urgency of expectations and the time it takes to turn around a country of the size of India, there will be not a single party remaining with a national mandate. Even if there is partial success on the development front, the model the BJP has adopted of economic growth delinked from social welfare does not augur well for its popularity. This could well be a repeat of the ‘Shining India’ debacle.

If this scenario of the absence of any party with a national mandate does transpire one could foresee an India of stable regional parties attempting some very unwieldy coalitions at the center. It is difficult to say at this time whether that would work or not. Quite intriguingly, it could take India back to its norm of being a landmass governed by many quasi-independent rulers tied together in shifting arrangements. After all, in its very long history, India has only really been united for brief interludes under Ashoka, Akbar, and Victoria. The Victorian legacy has now had a seventy-year hangover. Has the pendulum begun to swing the other way?

We will find out sooner rather than later. One thing to watch would be the strategy of the BJP from here on. From a rational perspective one might think it would read the tea leaves and adjust towards a more inclusive and welfare-oriented stance. But politics is rarely ever rational. It is more than likely that the BJP would harden its stance while simultaneously becoming unable to control the fringe elements it has unleashed as part of its tactics. If that happens, not only might there be a regression to the mean, it could be accompanied by a lot of unpleasant tremors.

Let us hope better sense prevails. India’s strength is its civil society and its remarkable response to the unraveling of the social fabric gives hope that some corrective action, whose exact nature is unclear at this time, would right the situation before it swings too far out of control.

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The Politics of Urbanization

May 20, 2013

By Anjum Altaf

The politics of urbanization could be less or more important than its economics.

It depends on the context. In relatively stable societies, economics shapes politics – these are places where one can meaningfully say “it’s the economy, stupid.” Even seemingly bizarre foreign policies can be related to economics as one might infer from the title of Lenin’s classic text Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

In less stable societies, the economy is hostage to politics. Think of Pakistan’s quixotic foreign policy adventures that have no conceivable relationship to national considerations and have driven the economy into the ground. The politics, in turn, is orchestrated by narrow, parochial and privileged economic interests as those who can discern can readily make out.

It is in this framework that the politics of urbanization in Pakistan is more fascinating than its economics. (more…)

Pakistan Elections 2013: Reflections

May 11, 2013

The South Asian Idea is opening up this space for your comments, thoughts, and reflections on the elections. Please use the Comments space below to voice your opinions and join the conversation on the future of Pakistan and of the region.

Thanks, Editors

The factual information appended below on the 2013 elections in Pakistan is courtesy of the British Pakistan Foundation who have further acknowledged their sources.

On Saturday, May 11th Pakistan will be voting its new parliament at its general elections 2013. For this reason we have compiled some relevant information to understand how the General Elections will influence the country’s political landscape. Please find below an infographic of AlJazeera on the Pakistan Elections 2013 (click on the link below the picture to view a larger image) as well as some information on the major political parties. (more…)

Thinking About the Elections in Pakistan

April 1, 2013

By Anjum Altaf

Elections are due in a few months and one of the questions being asked is whether they would be an exercise in futility. I think not even though nothing much is likely to change in the short term – for that, one can look across the border where six decades of uninterrupted democratic governance has not made a major difference in the lives of the marginalized. It is the long-term implications that ought to be the focus of our attention.

For better or for worse, and I feel it is for the better, we inherited representative government from the departing rulers. Better, because the precursor to representative governance, monarchy, no matter how benevolent at times, offered no mechanism for holding the aristocracy accountable or of institutionalizing orderly transfers of power. Those were huge negatives irrespective of how one looks at them. (more…)

Blame it on the People

March 3, 2011

By Dipankar Gupta

The fundamental law of politics is that rulers act and the ruled react. This truth has held in all hitherto existing societies: it is carbon dated, weather proofed and tropicalized. The difference democracy makes is that it lets the people judge its leaders, but only after they have already acted. When an elected leader advocates a policy in the name of popular will, it nearly always is a big lie. By using people as a cover, ugly politicians have found happiness in parliaments everywhere.

The sentiments of the people count when they are asked to judge a policy on Election Day. While votes do matter, they are always cast after the political act has taken place; never before it. (more…)

Another Country, Another Election

September 8, 2009

Well, there has been an election in Afghanistan and (surprise, surprise) tensions have risen about large-scale fraud. We have just been through an exercise in Iran whose repercussions are still being visited on the dissidents locked up in jails. And last year there was an election in Kenya in which thousands of people were made homeless in inter-tribal warfare.

Kenya? Really? Yes, and already forgotten. Time to move on to the next election. What’s going on folks? Is there really no need to figure out what happened in Kenya? What happened in Iran? No need to pay heed to the mud flying in Pakistan where tattletales are spilling the beans that virtually every election has been fixed (as if people did not know already)? Not only that; political parties have been manufactured and thieves bought and paid off to populate them. Should any of this cause someone to think that something might not be quite right in the Cuckooland of governance? (more…)

Democracy in India – 9: Who Speaks for India?

May 24, 2009

Every five years there is an election in India and we interpret the results to conclude what we think the majority of Indians want. But what happens between two elections? How do we know where the majority of Indians stand on the various issues that crop up between elections?

Let us take an issue like the relationship of India with any of its neighboring countries that might become salient because of some random incident. What determines the policy response of the Indian government to such an incident?

If we are not Indian and are outside India, all we have to go by is the English language media. How representative is this of the voice of the majority of Indians who are rural? (more…)

Democracy in India – 8: Dissecting the Election

May 20, 2009

Seen as separate events both the 2004 and the 2009 elections in India surprised the analysts and the political parties as well. But is it possible that seen in tandem the surprise falls away and a perfectly plausible story can be told?

Let me attempt such a broad-brush explanation before fleshing out the story:

In 2004, there was an anti-incumbency sentiment but no one magnet to which the disaffected were attracted resulting in a scattering of the vote and a fractured outcome. In 2009, there was a pro-incumbency sentiment with a clear recipient of the goodwill yielding a much more consolidated outcome. (more…)