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Thursday February 22, 2024

ECP again writes to judiciary over election duty

December 10, 2023

ISLAMABAD: In what may be called the last-ditch effort, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has again written to the judiciary to spare judicial officers for election duty as district returning officers and returning officers.

A senior official of the Election Commission told The News here that previously, high courts of the four provinces had declined to spare their officers for the February 8 general elections. But, he added, the electoral body decided to again move for seeking cooperation from the judiciary.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sign board. — AFP/File
 The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sign board. — AFP/File 

“The situation on the issue of appointment of district returning officers and returning officers will hopefully be clear by Monday. And, in case of no again from the judiciary, officers from district administration will be appointed for polls duty besides staff members from the commission,” he pointed out.

“The commission shall make appointments under Sections 50 and 51 at least sixty days prior to the issuance of Election Programme save for by-elections or in exceptional circumstances for reasons to be recorded, in which cases the commission shall make the appointments simultaneously with the issuance of the election programme.”

It was learnt that in response to the communication from the Election Commission, the Lahore High Court had reportedly sought the election schedule first, prior to taking any decision on judicial officers. According to Section 50 of the Elections Act, 2017, for election to an Assembly, the Commission shall, in the prescribed manner, appoint a District Returning Officer for each district or a specified area. This section also explains these officers can be drawn, “From amongst its own officers subject to availability; (b) by selection from a list of officers provided by the (federal) government or a Provincial Government; or from the subordinate judiciary in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned.”

Likewise, Section 51 says, “Appointment of Returning Officer and Assistant Returning Officers. (1) The Commission shall, in the prescribed manner, appoint, from amongst its own officers or officers of any Government or corporations, autonomous or semi-autonomous bodies controlled by any Government, or from the subordinate judiciary in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned, a Returning Officer for each constituency. (2) A person shall not be appointed as Returning Officer for more than one constituency, save in exceptional circumstances, for reasons to be recorded…(3) The Commission may, in the prescribed manner, appoint, from amongst its own officers or officers of any Government, or corporations, autonomous or semi-autonomous bodies controlled by any Government, as many Assistant Returning Officers as may be necessary”.

The National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) in its judicial policy back in 2009 had decided to stop judicial officers from performing election duties as it was believed this had dragged the judiciary into political controversies.

However, afterwards, for 2013 and 2018 general elections, the judiciary had spared judicial officers for the election duty.