Multiple By-Elections Are A Horrid Waste Of Taxpayer Money

Multiple By-Elections Are A Horrid Waste Of Taxpayer Money
The current population of Pakistan is approximately 240 million, of which 2.5 million people are active tax filers. I happen to unfortunately be one of those tax filers. We, the unlucky law-abiding 1%, bear the burden of the entire population of Pakistan by being taxed the most, but our government is still trying to bury us with frivolous expenditures and misapplication of tax money, one of it being by-elections where political candidates get elected in multiple constituencies, when required to keep only one seat. This means multiple by-elections in many constituencies, wasting taxpayer money. But who cares - it’s the poor taxpayer who keeps paying. The state of the economy is such that people are being given wheat bags as charity due to unprecedented inflation and still nothing is being done to stop such practices, which makes no sense whatsoever.

Recently, the Senate conducted its Annual Budgetary meeting. Amongst many issues, the details of expenses incurred in by-elections of the National and provincial assemblies during 2022 was presented in the Senate. The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs officials informed the house that 13 by-elections of the National Assembly and 24 by-elections for provincial assemblies were held in 2022. Expenses amounting to more than Rs 1.59 billion were incurred in by-elections alone; Rs 524.5 million in expenses were incurred on provincial assembly by-elections and over Rs 535.3 million on by-elections for the National Assembly.

This money could have been used for alleviating food shortages, rehabilitation of flood victims, health, or towards climate change adaptation endeavors.  No, it was used for the ease of politicians - so they can ensure their win by allowing them to contest elections from multiple constituencies, even as they brazenly exploit public money. The extent of this travesty was further highlighted when Imran Khan contested by-elections from seven constituencies in 2022, only to keep one and six were vacated.  Many others have exploited this option and made a mockery of the parliamentarian system.  One ticket for one candidate is the rule that should be followed. This is blatant misuse of taxpayer money and constitutes frivolous abuse of the public exchequer.

Article 223(2) of the Constitution stipulates that a candidate can contest elections from multiple seats at the same time, whether in the same body or different, but upon election in one or more, a candidate needs to vacate the other seats within thirty days, prompting a by-election in the seats vacated, as per section 108 of The Representation Of The People Act 1976:

“108. Bye-elections, etc.— (1) When the seat of a member becomes vacant, the [Commissioner] shall, by notification in the official Gazette, call upon the constituency concerned to elect a person to fill the seat for such constituency before such date as may be specified in the notification, and thereupon the provisions of this Act and the rules shall apply, as far as may be to the election to fill such seat: Provided that, notwithstanding anything contained in subsection 102(1) of section 11, the days for the several stages of an election shall be such as may be specified in the aforesaid notification.”

This results in an additional burden that is imposed on the public exchequer, government manpower and other resources of the country since by-elections have to be held in the constituencies that have been vacated.

Article 223(2) states ‘Nothing in the clause (1) shall prevent a person from being a candidate for two or more seats at the same time …’. Hence, there is no bar against double membership in Pakistan. Compared to Pakistan, in India prior to 1996, a candidate in India could contest elections from multiple constituencies. However, section 33(7) of The Representation of People Act 1951 was amended, permitting a candidate to only contest from two seats at most. Recently, a petition was filed before the Supreme Court of India, namely, Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay vs Union of India W.P.C No. 967/2017. This petition was turned down. The Supreme Court of India held that this is a matter pertaining to the legislative policy since, ultimately, Parliament determines whether political democracy in the country is furthered by granting a choice such as is made available by Section 33(7) of the Act of 1951. However, later a recommendation was put forth by the Election Commission India to devise a system that if a candidate contested from two constituencies and won both, then he or she would bear the financial burden of conducting the subsequent by-election in one of the constituencies; the amount would be INR 500,000 for a Vidhan Sabha (Provincial) election and INR 1 million for a Lok Sabha (National) election.

In order to strengthen democratic values and to ensure that the democratic system does not get ridiculed by candidates, not to mention unexplainable misuse of resources, there is a dire need to prioritize and ensure the rightful expenditure of the public exchequer.

One person one vote; and one candidate one constituency should be the dictum of Pakistan’s democratic system. This prompts certain amendments that need to be made in the Constitution, thereby limiting a candidate contesting from multiple constituencies to a minimum number, ideally one, but two could be considered reasonable. Alternatively, a provision could be added to The Election Act 2017 permitting the candidate to contest from multiple constituencies, but bearing the financial burden of the cost of by-elections upon vacating any of the seats. This practice will surely go a long way in discouraging the ridiculous practice of contesting multiple legislative seats, which is not a democratic norm, and in building the confidence of people in political parties. While the Election Act 2017 is being proposed to be amended, this could be a major amendment that political parties and the Election Commission of Pakistan could seek.