ISLAMABAD: The Election Bill 2016, containing detailed electoral reform package, will be presented on Tuesday before the main Parliamentary Committee on Election Reforms (PCER) envisaging that less than 10% turnout of women voters in any constituency will make the election void.
“If the turnout of women voters is less than 10 percent of the total female votes in a constituency, the (Election) Commission may presume that the women voters have been restrained through an agreement from casting their votes and may declare polling at one or more polling stations or election in the whole constituency, void,” said the 149 page report prepared by PCER’s sub-committee.
The Commission, according to the report a copy of which is available with The News, will have the power to declare a poll void if “the Commission is satisfied that by reason of grave illegalities or such violations of the provision of this Act or the Rules as have materially affected the result of the poll at one or more polling stations or in the whole constituency.”
According to the Election Bill 2016, “Such illegalities and violations include implementation of an agreement restraining women from casting their votes, it shall make a declaration accordingly and call upon the voters in the concerned polling station or stations or in the whole constituency as the case may be, to recast their votes in the manner provided for bye-elections.”
However, as per the explanation of the Bill, even in the absence of any such agreement less than 10 percent turnout of women voters will mean they have been restrained from casting their votes. This provision is likely to invite controversy from those areas where women by their own choice and because of their cultural norms and traditions avoid coming out for voting.
Under the Election Bill 2016, the Presiding Officer shall prepare a gender-segregated statement of voters showing total number of men and women voters at the polling station and the total votes cast by men and women voters. The Presiding officer shall send the gender-segregated statement of voters to the Retuning Officer and to the Commission at the time of communication of result to the RO and the Commission.
The Presiding Office may, at any stage on the polling day during or after the polling, prepare and send a special report to the Returning Officer and to the Commission if he has reason to believe that women voters have been restrained from exercising their right to vote based on any express or implied agreement.
The electoral reform package also provides for treating the remuneration payable to the Chief Election Commissioner, Commission’s members and other officers and staff as well as all other expenditures of ECP as per Article 81 of the constitution. Under this Article, the budgetary allocations and spending can be discussed in the parliament but shall not be submitted to the vote of legislature.
The ECP, under the proposed arrangement, will have to prepare a comprehensive action plan six months before the expiry of the term of an assembly, specifying all legal and administrative measures that have been taken or required to be taken in respect of the election.
Such measures include delimitation of constituencies, revision of electoral rolls, enlistment of political parties, allocation of symbols, appointment and training of election staff, establishment of a transparent result management system for election results etc.
Although in the recent years the judiciary has been reluctantly offering its officers to ECP to act as District Returning Officers, the Election Bill 2016 keeps this option open. The DROs could be appointed from amongst ECP’s own officers, by selection from a list of officers provided by the federal or provincial government or from subordinate judiciary in consultation with the chief justice of the concerned high court.
Regarding overseas Pakistanis, the reform package says that the Commission may, by notification, make arrangements in one or more foreign states to facilitate overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote in an election specified by the Commission.
If an overseas Pakistani is registered as a voter in any constituency, he may cast his vote in the election at the Pakistan embassy, high commission or consulate under the prescribed procedure.
Regarding election expenses, the reform package said that the contesting candidates could not spent more than one million and five hundred thousand for election to a seat in the Senate, four million rupees for election to a seat in the National Assembly and two million rupees for election to a seat in a provincial assembly.
Unlike past, the electoral reform package now empowers the Commission to get scrutinized from any federal or provincial authority the veracity of the Wealth Statement including assets and liabilities as submitted by the candidates.