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August 23, 2017

Election Reforms Bill 2017 passed by NA

Top Story

August 23, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday passed the Election Reforms Bill 2017 which will provide for consolidation of eight election laws and strengthen the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), making it fully independent and autonomous.

The lower house of parliament while passing the bill, also okayed over 40 amendments, including one amendment each moved by PPP and JUI-F, amid reservations from parliamentarians of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that their four basic demands were not addressed.

In the process, the House rejected nearly 100 amendments moved by the opposition members and members from JUI-F, the government’s allied party. The PTI members immediate after the passage of the bill, staged a token walkout from the House as a protest. The PTI members, during discussion on the bill, have demanded biometric identification of voters, right of vote to overseas Pakistanis, reconstitution of the ECP and appointment of the caretaker government by parliament.

During the passage, Minister for Law Zahid Hamid hinted at government’s intentions of amendment in articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. He said that constitutional amendment for fixing time limit for disqualification of a parliamentarian under these two articles would be taken to the main committee of parliament.

He said the time limit for disqualification of a parliamentarian should be less than five years. The bill was passed when less than 50 members in the House of 340 sitting members were present but none of parliamentarians pointed out the lack of quorum. “I feel myself ashamed on seeing the situation in the House. Only a couple of ministers out of 53 cabinet members are present,” the opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah during passage of the bill said.

The opposition leader on another point of order regretted the silence of the government on the policy announced by US President Trump on Tuesday morning.

He said the foreign minister was also present but he did not speak one single word in the House. “Today the US President wanted to convey when he said both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers,” he said adding today Pakistan was facing the present situation due to General Zia’s pro US policies. 

He requested the chair to direct back benchers on the government benches to occupy seats of minister on front rows otherwise the opposition would stage boycott of the proceedings. On that the chief whip of government, Sheikh Aftab Ahmad brought most of the members on front rows. 

The eight laws which would be consolidated once the bill becomes Act of the parliament include Electoral Rolls Act 1974, Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974, Senate Election Act 1975; Representation of the People Act 1976, Election Commission Order 2002, Conduct of General Elections Order 2002, Political Parties Order 2002 and Allocation of Symbols Order 2002.

Major reforms envisaged in the bill include strengthening of the Election Commission, which would be fully independent and autonomous. It has been delegated powers of the High Court for specific directions, administrative powers to control transfer of election officials and disciplinary action against them, full financial powers and powers to make rules without prior approval of the President.  

As an amendment in okayed by the House, the Election Commission would prepare a comprehensive Action Plan four months instead of six months before the elections specifying all legal and administrative measures for the conduct of elections. It would establish a transparent Result Management System for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results.

The Commissioners will have full financial powers including creating posts within its approved budgetary allocations and all the expenditure of the ECP would be charged upon the consolidated fund.

The ECP has been authorised to redress complaints and grievances during various stages of the election process (other than challenge to the election itself under Article 225) and it decision will be appealable to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The ECP shall have a transparent Results Managament System for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results.

According to an amendment in clause 13, the Returning Officer shall compile the provisional results forthwith and on or before 2 am the day immediately following the polling day, communicate these results electronically to the Commission.

An insertion made in clause 71, the Commission shall take necessary measures to minimise possibility of printing of fake ballot papers and for this purpose shall also examine the possibility of using special water-marked paper for printing of ballot papers. 

Another amendment in clause 92 says that on receipt of the results of the count from all presiding officers of a constituency, the Returning Officer shall forthwith prepare and announce provisional consolidated statement of results of the count of constituency (excluding postal ballots) in prescribed manner.

With regard to Delimitation, the ECP shall delimit constituencies after every census. The ECP shall appoint district returning officers, returning officers and assistant returning officers at least 60-days prior to the issuance of the Election Programme of the general elections.

The distance between a polling station and the voters assigned to it shall not exceed one kilometer, list of polling scheme shall be published at least 30-days before the polling day and the ECP will be empowered to install surveillance cameras in highly sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring of activities in such polling stations.

In case of default on payment of taxes, loans, utility expenses or other government duties, a candidate may clear the default at the time of scrutiny of the nomination papers, except in the case of willful concealment.

Maximnum limits of election expenses shall be Rs4 million for National Assembly and Rs2 million for provincial assembly and Rs1.5 million for Senate elections. Elections expenses shall be monitored by District Monitoring Team of the ECP and the ECP may impose fines in case of violation of the Act or the Rules.

Every member of the an Assembly or Senate will be required to submit annual wealth statement in the same form as is submitted under the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 and in case of failure to file wealth Statement, the ECP can suspend the membership of the defaulting member and if the default continues for beyond 60 days, shall issue show cause notice shall be issued for termination of his membership.

The Commission shall scrutinise the wealth Statement and in case it is found to be false, the commission may direct prosecution of the Member for the offence of corrupt practices.

To check mushroom growth of political parties, conditions of enlistment of a new political party with the ECP will include, in addition to existing requirements, minimum Rs2,000 and Rs200,000 enlistment fee.

A political party shall submit to the ECP annual financial statement and list of donors who have donated Rs100,000 and above to the political party.

The symbols allocated to the political parties and candidates should be visibly different from each other. Another amendment in clause 95 says before commencement of the consolidation proceedings, the returning officer shall recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations if a request in writing is made by a contesting candidate or his election agent and Returning Officer considers such request as not unreasonable.

After passage of the bill, through a resolution moved by the government, the House expressed thanks to members of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms committee recommending President’s Pride of Performance Award for them. 

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