Islamabad, Pakistan, October 4, 2013 — In early September, The Asia Foundation’s Pakistan office marked a two-day “Mega Mela” event in celebration of the Supporting Transparency, Accountability and Electoral Processes in Pakistan (STAEP) Program’s achievements in promoting citizen-led responsive governance in Pakistan. The nationwide program, operational since 2009, is a recognized pioneer in promoting democratic processes that are inclusive, open, efficient and accountable to Pakistani citizens. Through the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a consortium which now has over 40 Pakistani civil society organization, STAEP works to monitor public institutions and improve communications between elected representatives and their constituents. Its notable successes include empowering citizens to raise demands with elected representatives, Election Day monitoring throughout Pakistan by 40,000 trained volunteers, instituting necessary reforms with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and increasing female voter turnout by up to 70% in some constituencies.
As the program comes to a close in December 2013, the Mega Mela provided an opportunity to bring together partner organizations, ambassadors, public representatives, media, national and international technical experts, and ordinary citizens from 200 National Assembly constituencies across Pakistan to share in the project’s findings, successes and lessons learned. The Mega Mela was particularly timely in light of Pakistan’s historic 2013 General Elections that saw a legitimate and democratic transition of power for the first time in the country’s 66-year history. Though the threat of violence was pervasive, the high voter turn-out demonstrated Pakistani citizens’ resolve for positive change, and STAEP has played a pivotal role in consolidating democracy and creating space for more responsive governance.
Leading the plenary session, Gareth Aicken, Asia Foundation Country Representative in Pakistan, thanked the members of the audience in his opening remarks, and acknowledged the efforts of Pakistani citizens in making governance more responsive and accountable in Pakistan. He noted the establishment of FAFEN in 2006 as one of the Foundation’s key achievements, and praised STAEP’s important role in helping bridge the citizen-state gap. Suzanne E. Siskel, Asia Foundation’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, stated that effective, transparent and accountable governance is important in addressing the massive challenges facing Pakistan today, and applauded the high voter turnout in Pakistan during the past elections.
Syed Sher Afghan, Additional Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) appreciated STAEP’s contribution to the electoral reform process in Pakistan, and acknowledged the 2013 by-elections as one of the most free and fair in the history of the country. Looking forward, he proposed enhancement of electoral processes in Pakistan, including delimitation of constituencies and extension of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, hopeful that these initiatives will be in place in time for the next General Elections. FAFEN Chairman, Zahid Islam stressed the importance of citizens’ continuing and active role in helping democracy flourish while maintaining strong opposition to authoritative rule. He recognized the role of Citizens Relations Groups (CRGs) established under the STAEP program in facilitating greater government accountability through proactive citizen engagement with public officials.
Lubna Javaid, Team Manager, STAEP, highlighted the program’s key role in fostering state-citizen engagement, saying that change happens when citizens own the process. “When they own that this is their government and these are their governing institutions, then institutions discharge their responsibility better,” said Javaid. “Engaged citizens keep the process and institutions on track. The STAEP program has laid this foundation.” The plenary was followed by theatre play, thematic sessions, and sharing of program experiences by FAFEN representatives and members, as well as volunteers from across Pakistan. STAEP was lauded for effecting positive change in governance across Pakistan, in particular, for improved transparency of public institutions and electoral processes, devising legislative measures for ECP’s autonomy, establishing a unified electoral law, contributing towards election-related constitution and legislation, promoting citizen engagement with public institutions and focused efforts to enhance involvement of women in the electoral processes.
In his closing remarks, Marcel de Vink, Ambassador of the Netherlands spoke of democracy as a continuous process that needed to be built upon and consolidated over time, crediting the 2013 General Elections for providing the platform upon which further democracy-related initiatives can transpire. Suzanne E. Siskel closed the event with a vote of thanks and recognition of citizens for their generous contribution towards the project’s success. Acknowledgement certificates were distributed to all participating partners marking the official closing of the Mega Mela.
The Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia, has been implementing the STAEP program in Pakistan with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID/UKaid) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.