ISLAMABAD: Acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Wednesday disclosed that he had written a letter to the chief justice of the country for holding the next general elections under the supervision of the judiciary.
Addressing a seminar at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) office here in connection with the Voters’ Day, the acting chief election commissioner said he had written a letter to the chief justice, asking him to review the National Judicial Policy and allow the appointment of judges as district presiding officers and returning officers.
Answering a question, the acting chief election commissioner said he had written to the apex court to allow sessions judges to perform duty as returning officers during the next general elections. He contended that during the election, the returning officers should not be from the administration but from the judiciary because there was a view that a returning officer from the bureaucracy would have to work under pressure in a highly politicised environment and this would mar the electoral process.
In the judicial policy, it was clearly stated that in future, judges would not act as returning officers in elections, as this might not augur well for the judiciary.Meanwhile, various functions were held at the ECP offices at the provincial and district levels to create an awareness among the people about the importance of their registration as voters.
The ECP adopted various strategies to highlight the importance of the day through banners and media advertisements. To support the electoralbody’s initiative, various NGOs also organised seminars wherein politicians and civil society members spoke on the significance of an individual being registered as a voter.
Months back, the ECP had launched an SMS service for citizens to ascertain their registration as voter and related information by just sending their computerised national identity card number on ‘8300’. This is the unique, cheapest and easiest way of getting the needed information.
Agencies add: Major political parties represented in the Senate on Wednesday agreed to expedite the process of key electoral reforms, including steps to ensure full participation of women as voters as well as candidates, needed before the general elections.
A Special Committee of the Senate on Electoral Issues at a public hearing held here reiterated its commitment to the greater role of parliament for electoral reforms and said that a resolution should be got approved by parliament for holding the elections under the supervision of the judiciary. He said that the agenda of reforms would be carried forward in consultation and collaboration with political parties, civil society, the ECP and other stakeholders.
According to a press release, Leader of the House in Senate Senator Jahangir Badr chaired the public hearing. The members of the committee, including Senators Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Syed Muzafar Ali Shah, Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hasni, Syeda Sughra Imam, Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, Kamil Ali Agha, Muhammad Zahid Khan and Islamuddin Shaikh, also attended the public hearing.
Senator Farhatullah Babar and MNAs Bushra Gohar and Abdul Kadir Khanzada also attended the first public hearing on electoral issues in the history of parliament. In his opening remarks, Senator Jahangir Badr said the public hearing was a landmark initiative by the Senate committee, as it never happened before in the history of parliament that a Senate committee held a public hearing on the electoral issues.
The committee, he said, intended to put forward recommendations for the ECP, National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and other institutions so that administrative measures could be taken before the next general elections. He noted that October 17 was declared the National Voters’ Day and this public hearing was an acknowledgment that the Senate recognised the importance of voters and was discussing key reforms to safeguard their rights.
Senator Ishaq Dar was of the opinion that his party would work together with the treasury benches to reach a consensus on key reforms. “The current parliament should be given credit for strengthening the Election Commission of Pakistan through constitutional measures and no one can derail or undo those strengths of the ECP,” he said.
Dar emphasised that the Senate committee would take up some key electoral reform issues pertaining to voters’ lists, campaign financing, code of conduct and women’s participation. “We fully support special measures for allocating quota of women on winnable general seats, ensuring that women are able to register as well as vote,” he said.
More than 20 Pakistani and international organisations representing various sections of the civil society and political parties presented their recommendations related to the key reforms before the committee. The presenters urged parliament to play its role so the much-needed agenda of immediately required reforms could be carried forward.
Ensuring full participation of women as voters as well as candidates was on top of the list of reforms among most of the participants. They agreed to the suggestions on introducing special measures for ensuring participation of women and legal consequences for barring the women from voting.
The rationalisation of provisions related to political finances, backing up the code of conduct with law and provision for parties to provide transport to their voters were also among the key areas of reforms discussed by the civil society representatives. The civil society was unanimous in its call for making the electoral rolls error-free, registration of those who were not included in the lists, especially women, and making it accessible to the public for changes and corrections.
They also demanded transparent management of the electoral process by the ECP, an effective system of election dispute resolution and greater public awareness aimed at increasing voter turnout and trust of people into democracy.
The organisations which presented their recommendations in writing before the committee included Aurat Foundation, Centre for Civic Education (CCE), Development Communications Network (DevCom), Free and Fair Elections Network (Fafen), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Institute of Regional Studies (IRS), Pak Women, Pattan Development Organisation (Pattan), Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), PML Women Wing, Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sungi Development Foundation (Sungi), Democracy Reporting International (DRI), International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), National Democratic Institute (NDI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women.
A number of other organisations, including representatives of parties, bar associations, business community, media and rights groups, participated in the open discussion followed by the presentations. They emphasised that to achieve the reforms, parliament should immediately begin an inclusive process of stakeholder consultation based on constitutional requirements and international law commitments.