Monday May 27, 2024

Proposed amendments to Election Act, 2017: Caretaker govt will have powers to take decisions on economy

Commission can initiate criminal proceedings against election officials concerned

By Asif Bashir Chaudhry & Asim Yasin
July 26, 2023
A man counts dollars and other currency notes. —AFP
A man counts dollars and other currency notes. —AFP

ISLAMABAD: A draft bill seeking to make amendments to the Election Act, 2017 proposes to empower the caretaker government with the authority to take necessary decisions for the country’s economy including dealing with international organizations and foreign treaties.

The government intends to get these amendments passed during the joint sitting of both houses of parliament today (Wednesday).

The 54 amendments proposed by the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms have been added to the proposed amendment bill, and an amendment in a Section 230 of the Election Act, 2017 has also been made part of the proposed bill.

According to a copy of the proposed amendments available with The News, a new clause 2(A) added in Section 230 of the Election Act, 2017 through the proposed Election Act (Amendment) Bill states that sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 230 of the Election Act -- which restrict the functions of the caretaker government -- will not apply whenever circumstances exist which render it “expedient for the caretaker government to take such actions or decisions necessary for the purposes of protection of economic interests of Pakistan dealing with bilateral and multilateral agreements with the international institutions and foreign government, including continuation and conclusion of projects initiated under the Public Private Partnership Authority Act, 2017 (VIII of 2017), the Inter-government Commercial Transactions Act, 2022 ( XXX of 2022) and the Privatization Commission Ordinance, 2000 (LII of 2000)”.

Further amendments in the proposed bill relate to the result management system, with the amendment to Section 13 proposing that the presiding officer shall immediately take a snapshot of the result of the count and, as soon as connectivity is available and it is practicable, send it electronically or through other appropriate technologies to the Commission and the returning officer before sending the original documents under section 90”. The section further says that in case connectivity is not available and it is not practicable to send the results electronically or through other appropriate technologies, “the presiding officer shall immediately proceed physically with the results to the returning officer...”

The amendments also say that the returning officer should compile the complete provisional results as early as possible and that if the results are incomplete by 2:00am on the day immediately following the polling day, “the returning officer shall communicate to the Commission provisional results as consolidated till that time along with reasons for the delay.

The amendments empower the Commission to appoint enquiry officers or an Enquiry Committee to initiate and finalize proceedings under the efficiency and discipline rules applicable to the election officials. In a new clause, apart from disciplinary proceedings, the Commission may also initiate criminal proceedings under Section 188 read with Section 184 against the concerned election officials, public servants or other persons in service of Pakistan mentioned in sub-section (3).

According to the proposed amendments, a candidate may appoint three voters in the constituency as his election agents -- though “at the time of consolidation of results, only one agent shall be present as authorized by a candidate”. The amendment to Section 79, a new sub-section -- Section 79(2)(A) -- says: “On the day of polling, the presiding officer shall post outside the polling station list showing numbers of the voters assigned to each polling booth.” While an amendment to Section 83 says that officials of the law-enforcement agencies posted for security duties outside a polling station may “in an emergency” be “called inside by the presiding officer to restore order and peaceful polling.”

In another amendment -- to Section 90 -- detailing the consequences delayed results can yield, the presiding officer shall personally deliver without delay the result of the count and the ballot paper account prepared by him to the returning officer and “if the returning officer is of the view that delivery has been inexcusably delayed, he shall refer the defaulting presiding officer to the Commission for initiation of disciplinary proceedings under section 54 ....”

Some of the other proposed amendments include NADRA being bound to provide new ID card records to the Election Commission; the returning officer recounting the ballot papers of one or more polling stations if a request or challenge in writing is made to that effect by a contesting candidate or his election agent and the margin of victory between returned and runner up candidates is less than five per cent of the total votes.

Per the proposed amendments, a polling station cannot be changed five days before polling day; candidates will be able to use any of their bank accounts for election expenses; the difference in the number of voters in the constituencies will not be more than five per cent; and complaints against demarcations can be made within 30 days.

The proposed amendments also say that the secrecy of vote will be ensured by installation of cameras in polling stations; a candidate can object to the establishment of a polling station on concrete grounds; a candidate will be able to challenge the appointment of polling staff in the constituency within 10 days; in case of not holding intra-party elections, a party can be fined Rs2 lakh; and the final list of polling staff should be uploaded on the ECP website; and the ECP will be bound to provide the voter list of the constituency 30 days before polling.The proposed amendment bill also says that any member or honorary member of a government or semi-governmental board can contest elections and will not be disqualified for accepting an honorary position. The delimitation of electoral constituencies will be based on equal votes, and there will not be a difference of more than five per cent in the number of voters in different constituencies. The proposed amendments also set the limits to election spending: Rs1 crore for a National Assembly seat and Rs40 lakhs for a provincial seat.