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Saturday March 02, 2024

Ensuring democratic foundations

December 06, 2023

As declared and guaranteed by Article 17 of the constitution of Pakistan, every person shall have the right to form groups or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by legislation in the interest of Pakistan’s sovereignty or integrity, public order, or morality.

Thus, every citizen who is not employed by the Pakistan government has the right to form a political party, join it, be affiliated with it, participate in political activities, and run for office under Article 17(3) of the constitution as read with Section 203 of the Election Act, 2017. Following his/her joining, the political party will list him/her as a member after which the member will receive a membership card or other proof of affiliation.

According to Section 200 of the Election Act of 2017, a political party must be formed and enlisted in Pakistan with a unique identity for its national, provincial, and local structures. It must also not spread opinions or act in a way that is contrary to the fundamental values enshrined in the constitution, as well as not undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty or integrity, public order, or morality, engage in terrorism, or foster hatred or animosity between sects, regions, or provinces.

A woman casts her vote during Pakistans general election at a polling station in Islamabad. — AFP/File
A woman casts her vote during Pakistan's general election at a polling station in Islamabad. — AFP/File

According to Section 201 of Election Act, each political party is required to give the Election Commission a printed copy of its constitution, which must include the party’s goals and objectives, organizational structure at the federal, provincial and local levels, membership dues that must be paid by members, the names and terms of the office bearers, and the standards for receiving and raising funds. According to Section 201(3), a political party’s constitution may be changed, but only after notifying the ECP for fifteen days. The ECP is also required to keep an up-to-date record of all political party constitutions.

A copy of the political party’s constitution, the certificate and data required to be submitted under sections 201 and 209, a copy of the consolidated statement of its accounts under Section 210, a list of at least 2,000 members with their signatures or thumb impressions along with copies of their National Identity Cards, and documentation of the deposit of two hundred thousand rupees in the ECP’s name in the government treasury as an enlistment fee are all required, according to Section 202 of the Election Act, 2017.

In line with Section 205, a political party member can be suspended or expelled from the party in accordance with the procedures outlined in the party’s constitution. However, prior to an order for a member’s suspension or expulsion from the political party, the member shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard and to present evidence in support of the proposed action.

As mandated by Section 208, political party office-bearers at the federal, provincial, and local levels must be elected on a regular basis in line with the party’s constitution, with a maximum of five years elapsing between elections. Furthermore, every member of a political party is entitled, subject to the party’s constitution’s requirements, to one equal chance to run for any office within the party. Additionally, the registered political party must provide the ECP with an updated list of all of its executive committee members and central office bearers that is posted on its website following the election.

Section 209 states that every political party must provide the ECP with a certificate attesting to the fact that the elections were conducted in compliance with the party’s constitution and the Election Act, where appropriate, within seven days of the conclusion of the intra-party elections through an open and democratic process, signed by an office-bearer designated by the Party Head. In accordance with Section 209(3) read in conjunction with Rule 158, the ECP is required to post a political party’s certificate on its website within seven days of receiving it under sub-section (1).

A political party enlisted under the Election Act shall be eligible under Section 215 to obtain an election symbol for contesting elections for parliament, provincial assemblies, or local government upon submission of the certificates and statements referred to in sections 202, 206, 209, and 210. Section 215 further states that the ECP shall prescribe a list of election symbols for allocation to political parties and candidates, and the symbols in the list shall be visibly and perceptually different from each other.

Additionally, Section 215(3) and Section 215(4) say that where a political party or combination of political parties, severally or collectively, fails to comply with the provision of sections 209 or 210, the ECP shall issue to such political party or parties a notice to show cause as to why it or they may not be declared ineligible to obtain an election symbol, and if a political party or parties to whom show-cause notice has been issued under sub-section (4) of Section 215 fails to comply with the provision of Section 209 or Section 210, the ECP will after affording it or them an opportunity of being heard, declare it or them ineligible to obtain an election symbol for election to parliament, provincial assembly or a local government, and the ECP shall not allocate an election symbol to such political party or combination of political parties in subsequent elections.

While the ECP generally refrains from interfering in intraparty elections, Section 209(3) of the Election Act permits it to do so in some circumstances by raising legal objections to the fulfillment of legal requirements prior to the issuance of certificates. In addition to the ECP, a political party member may contest the intraparty election process on specific grounds, such as that it was not conducted independently or transparently in accordance with the Election Act or that the party constitution was violated. In the aforementioned two scenarios, the ECP will be the only appropriate forum, and its decision may be contested before a high court with constitutional jurisdiction.

There is no denying that political parties have a big influence on setting the direction of a country and generating leaders. However, in order to sustain political parties’ life, representation, accountability, and responsiveness to the needs of their people and the broader community, transparent internal party elections are necessary. Unfortunately, Pakistan lags significantly behind other nations in the global democratic rankings.

The foundation of democracy and a stable political future for Pakistan must therefore be laid by the leaders of all political parties, who must first genuinely and transparently establish democracy within their own organizations and assign their best members to the electoral constituencies.

The writer is a practising advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan with 25 years of legal standing. He can be reached at: hafizahsaan47@gmail.com