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March 18, 2018

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How election 2018 will be different from previous one

ISLAMABAD: In the backdrop of serious questions raised on the credibility of the 2013 elections and amid fears of possible interference in the forthcoming general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) assures that the 2018 polls will be different from the past ensuring free, fair and impartial elections. When asked how the 2018 general elections would be different from the past, senior ECP officials listed a number of measures and initiatives which they insist will ensure free and fair elections.

Referring to the Election Act 2017, the ECP sources said that the prime objective of the electoral reforms was to revisit all the election processes, procedures, forms, laws and rules in order to address loopholes in the system for overall improvement in all the aspects.

Keeping the above in mind, the commission sources hoped that the general elections 2018 will be positively different from general elections 2013 for the following reason:

1) ECP is proactively introducing the following state-of-the-art new technologies to do the best to conduct free, fair and impartial elections in the country:

a. Result Management System (RMS): Proper result management system will be deployed for the use of result compilation by the Returning Officer (RO) following international standards of constituency for which he will be equipped with latest computers, printers, scanners, high speed internet connectivity and two well-trained data entry operators. All the Forms-45, 48 & 49 will be entered in the database and scanned, and will be available for public on ECP website for transparency within 14 days from the polls day. The RMS has been tested in more than two dozen bye-elections over the period of more than two years.

b. Result Transmission System (RTS): The RTS is developed for instant transmission of Form-45 directly from the polling stations to the RO/ECP offices by the Presiding Officer (PO). There will be about 85,000 polling stations in upcoming general elections, so 85,000 POs and same number of APOs will be trained for quick result transmission from the polling station to RO/ECP office using his/her mobile phones and specialised developed secure and reliable software called mobile APP. The system has the reliable and verifiable features like time stamping while taking snap, location stamping while sending it from particular location, photo compression, water mark time, date on photograph etc.

c. Geographical Information System (GIS): The GIS polling stations is the cutting edge technology in which all the polling stations of the country are geo-tagged along with photographs. Once the polling stations will be declared final at least one month before the polls day, the list of polling stations along with Google Maps features will also be displayed on ECP website for public convenience.

d. CLICK ECP (Mobile APP): The “Click ECP” is Android based mobile APP platform by using it anyone can get real-time results of the general elections and virtually get access to ECP from anywhere in the world;

e. 8300 SMS: The voters’ can get his/her vote details by sending his/her 13 digits CNIC at 8300 and in response they are getting the voting details with exact serial number in the list of the voting book.

f. ECP’s website: As per Election Act 2017, there are 22 sections and types of information that will be placed on website during pre-poll, on polls day and post poll activities.

2) ECP has hired its own huge strong room buildings in almost every division across the country to store election material in secure manner rather than to place it in government control treasury of the commissioner’s offices in the district.

3) ECP can punish irresponsible polling staff.

4) High Courts or lower courts cannot interfere in the ECP, only Supreme Court of Pakistan can take petitions;

5) ECP will deploy election monitors at constituency level to monitor code of conduct and will facilitate the RO to take actions at the spot. These monitors will supervise the trainings, election materials, implementation of code of conduct to gauge the quality;

6) Photographic electoral rolls will continue be used for transparency but magnetised ink will not be used in upcoming elections;

7) Tendered vote will be counted to give the right to vote to the actual voter.

8) Persons with disabilities and government officials will use postal ballot facility for casting a vote;

9) Polling result will be declared void if voting turnout of women voters’ will be recorded less than 10 percent of the polled vote in any constituency;

10) Polling stations have been increased from 70,000 to more than 85,000 in upcoming general elections to give convenience to public at large to provide polling stations less than 1 to 2 kilometer from home.

11) Empowerment of the ECP: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) now has more financial autonomy and is invested with powers equal to those of a high court. It can now initiate disciplinary action against any staff involved in the conduct of elections found deviating from the electoral law or rules. The ECP had lacked sufficient powers in the past and struggled to take necessary action against staff seconded from other departments.

12) Improved accountability and results transparency: The Act introduces key measures to this effect, such as the ECP’s obligation to make its rules available for public comment and its responsibility to prepare and submit annual reports for review by the federal and provincial legislatures. The ECP is required to prepare a plan for the conduct of elections four months in advance of a general election, reflecting all necessary preparations to hold genuine elections, as well as a post-election review report. The Elections Act further requires the ECP to take measures to enhance the transparency of the results process.

13) Complaints and Tribunals: The Act provides every citizen the right to file a complaint with the ECP on almost all aspects of an election – the first time Pakistanis have been afforded such an opportunity. The ECP is required to address complaints within 30 days of their receipt and publish information about the complaints on its website. The exception, however, are petitions related to candidacy and results, which remain limited to candidates (areas which would, in future, be useful to extend to citizens and parties as well).

14) Caretaker setup and local government elections: The Elections Act makes an important leap in defining the functions and limitations of caretaker governments and establishing the contours of action these interim governments can and cannot take, restricting them from taking any major policy decisions. In addition, the Act sets out a legally binding timeline for the conduct of local elections, which must now be held within 120 days after local councils complete their tenure or are dissolved.

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