Pakistani parties

Pakistan perhaps could use a modification of its laws on political parties.

A few observations drawn from an Express Tribune item on the “mushroom growth” in the number of parties:

The number of approved political parties has grown from 147 to 281 in the last five years. Partly this is because “there are dozens of parties registered with the same prefix or suffix – the Pakistan Muslim League, for instance.”

Fully 90% of the registered parties are a “one man show”!

There is no law to deregister a party.

It gets worse:

Some argue that it is easier to register a political party in Pakistan than to register your child in school.

There are no registration fees and all you need is an application, a copy of the party’s manifesto and constitution along with a list of office-bearers. An applicant can also give an undertaking that intra-party elections will be held soon.

The ECP doesn’t have a mechanism to verify documents submitted and nor does it pursue the verification process. As a result, many party manifestos or constitutions are reworded versions of another party’s. The list of office-bearers is only checked for names that another party’s lists may include.

This process is not exactly helpful to developing a party system that would actually aid voter representation. And, no, this is not the worst of problems facing Pakistani democracy, or Pakistan more broadly.

4 thoughts on “Pakistani parties

  1. I’ve given the issue some thought, and I think if I were starting from a blank slate, parties would exist essentially as the legal vehicles for election related contributions and expenses.

    They would be able to endorse candidates, and candidates could list any organizations that endorsed them on the ballot, but political parties wouldn’t have ballot access themselves or a formal role in how seats and offices are allocated. Individual candidates would place themselves on the ballot if they met the regisltration requirements or threshold. Proportional systems using lists would be possible, but the list would be formed anew and duly registered for each election (essentially treated as an inidividual candidate registering). Politicians in legislatures would be free to organize caucasuses or parliamentary parties to assist in the organization of the legislature, and technically these would only exist within the legislature, though affliation with organizations outside the legislature would be allowed within the scope of the lobbying laws.

    This position is based on the observation that giving a formal role for political parties in the electoral process seems to encourage alot of system gaming in low trust societies (including the U.S. and certainly including Pakistan), and this outweighs the benefits of increased convenience and increased information that giving a formal role for parties within the electoral process. And alot of the value provided in knowing that politician Y is the candidate of party X could be provided by just listing all the affiliations of Y on the ballot.

  2. In reference to the discussion on piggyback MPs, my idea of not giving political parties a formal role in the electoral process would work the least well with additional (or more accurately compensatory) member systems such are used in Germany and New Zealand. With party list proportional representation, politicians just register jointly, as an electoral list, instead of as individual candidates. With STV, you still have registration as individual candidates. But the German system works starting on the assumption that political parties should have representation in the legislature in proportion to votes cast in an election where you also have candidates running in single districts, and there is a problem here if you don’t want to give formal recognition to political parties in your electoral process.

    However, Germany and New Zealand are both high trust societies. I think they use an electoral system that could be gamed, to the point where the system doesn’t work, by setting up one party to contest the constituencies and a separate party focused on contesting the aggregate vote, that are in reality joined but technically separate. That way the members elected via constituencies from the first party would not count against the overall level of representation for its partner. The piggyback example is one of gaming using the opposite strategy, two separate small parties pretending to be a single party to maximize their chances of entering parliament. To avoid this sort of thing in a low trust, you need impartial electoral authorities to get deeply involved into whether two parties are really the same party, or a party is really two separate parties, and so on. Better to just get parties out of the electoral system altogether.

  3. Ed, you make very good points. However, forming lists anew in each election while also having groups define themselves in the legislature in between them might undermine continuity in the party system for all but those political tendencies that have the strongest extra-parliamnetary organization.

    And the reasons you note in the second comment for MMP needing legally recognized parties are indeed crucial. I suppose you are aware of the Lesotho and Albania experiences with the “dummy” parties to game the system. Lesotho’s response was to abolish the separate list vote. Albania’s was to go to districted list-only PR (closed lists).

  4. As I noted in a postscript under “Piggy back MPs, Part 2”, this problem of dummy candidates winning districts with no list affiliation, could be solved by allowing the runner-up candidates in the district 48 hours after the poll to nominate which party list the local winner’s seat should be “billed to”. If they disagreed, whichever list is nominated by the losing candidate or combination of candidates with the most votes, is selected.
    In other words, for each list, you add up the votes cast for each runner-up candidate who’s pointed the finger at that list, and deduct one seat from the entitlement for whichever list is named by the highest-polling aggregation of losing candidates. Hungarians, take note.

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