Pakistan seems to always be in uncharted territories — most of them are bad ones, but occasionally a good one appears on the horizon too. Therefore, hopefully in just under two months we will be having our third consecutive democratic election. This is not just uncharted territory, but a huge feat, as Pakistan has never surpassed a decade of democratic rule (of whatever kind, that is). Since we are now edging towards some stable form of elections (at least) perhaps it is time to start taking the exercise seriously. Over the last couple of week, we have been conducting several constituency level consultations. These have been mainly focused on minority rights and representation, but what has also come to the fore through these discussions is that voters, even the more knowledgeable ones, are unaware how the election process should run. Since we have only had a few elections, and that too mainly personality based ones, perhaps this is understandable, but now, in the third consecutive edition we need to move beyond the imaginary to the tangible. Back in May 2010, when the United Kingdom was having its general elections, I was still a student at Oxford. Being a Commonwealth national, I could vote in the UK election and therefore decided to participate in it wholeheartedly. The main seat in Oxford, Oxford West and Abingdon, had been long held by a Liberal Democrat politician, Evan Harris, who was very popular and his victory margin was always strong. Therefore both the Conservative and the Labour parties selected junior members for the election, so that their candidates might at least gain experience. Since Dr Harris had been winning the seat since 1997 with a comfortable margin, there was little chance that he would lose this time either and so the campaign, while vocal for the other candidates, was of little consequence, it was thought. Despite the expected result, some local leaders did not want the interest and involvement of the constituents to wane, and so the local parish priest, Fr Daniel Seward and I, organised a ‘hustings’ for all the main candidates in the constituency. So one evening we gathered all the four main candidates for the seat — Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Labour and Green, and let the local constituents ask them questions and query them about their work and priorities for the constituency. After our forays, several other similar hustings also took place, and people were able to question and compare all the main candidates and their stance. When the elections then took place, the expectation was that Dr Harris might again win the seat, but, at least the hope of the Conservative candidate Nicola Blackwood (who was a PhD student a Oxford) was that his lead might be cut into half. With that hope everyone watched the results as they poured in. Then, almost like a thriller movie, late in the night on the election day, the television presenter noted that Nicola Blackwood had won the seat by 178 votes! This was simply unbelievable — even for Nicola herself — as no one had ever expected such an upset! It was great that a young smart woman who had little political experience had risen to become an MP for an important seat, but the turn around was simply exemplary. In the post-election analysis then, what came forward as the one of the primary reasons for Nicola’s win and Harris’s loss, was the fact that most constituents thought that Dr Harris was not a good ‘local MP’ while Nicola, with a strong focus on local issues, was judged to be a better candidate. And this where the crux of the issue lay. With the general election coming up, it might be useful if constituents demanded a constituency specific programme from all their candidates. This will clarify their interests and priorities, and reverse the gaze on critical local issues In Pakistan people largely do not vote for a good local candidate, but for a party or better still a ‘leader.’ So they think that Imran Khan will change everything for them or that Shehbaz Sharif might give them all amenities. But in thinking so they miss the most important connection — the local MP. While the top leadership gives the vision and general policy it is the responsibility of the local MP to carry it out. In addition, local MP’s are supposed to give specific programmes for their constituencies and its development. In Pakistan, however, either it is biradari based local politics in the rural areas, or personality politics in the urban areas, hardly is the question debated or deliberated upon that who will be good as my local MP? With the general election coming up, it might be useful if constituents demand a constituency-specific programme from all their candidates. This will clarify their interests and priorities, and reverse the gaze on critical local issues. Then, local hustings with the main candidates should take place so that voters are able to discern between them and ask them specific questions concerning their local manifesto rather than generic talk. Undertaking such measures will not only improve the electoral process, and create more informed voters, but will also be beneficial in the next elections when voters can hold to account the person who won from their constituency based on his/her local manifesto. Pakistan’s democracy is far from perfect and it will still take decades, but a beginning needs to be made now to make it more informed, effective and accountable. The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK Published in Daily Times, June 1st 2018.