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June 23, 2018

ECP website silent on candidates’ details


June 23, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed to post the candidates’ affidavits on its website despite the fact that the last day for filing appeals against the returning officers (ROs) decisions about accepting or rejecting nomination papers of candidates passed away on Friday.

The delay has made it impossible for the voters to challenge or raise objections to their candidates on the basis of discrepancies in politicians’ asset details. According to the Revised Election Schedule, June 22 was the last day for raising objections to the candidates before the appellate tribunals.

Although the voters can take the candidates to higher courts for mis-declaration, it normally takes months and years for the courts to decide such cases. The ECP’s decision to post the nomination papers and affidavits of the candidates on its website was hailed as a step towards the right direction ensuring transparency and accountability. However, the delay has raised questions about the utility of the entire exercise.

Before 2013 elections, the commission had shared details of nomination papers of more than 15,000 politicians, who had contested elections from 849 national and provincial constituencies and on 221 reserved seats.

When contacted, a spokesperson for the ECP, Altaf Ahmad Khan, said the delay was caused by a huge volume of data collected by the returning officers across Pakistan. “It is not an easy task which could be completed within hours. We are talking about the data of thousands of provincial and National Assembly candidates from all over the country,” he said.

Khan said the data will be available online within a couple of days. He also dispelled the impression that the delay will benefit the cheating candidates insisting that the voters could have obtained details of each candidates’ assets from their respective returning officers.

The election does have a provision for the open inspection of nomination papers. "The returning officer shall make the nomination papers along with annexures open to inspection by the public and also issue certified copies of these documents in such manner and on payment of such fee as may be prescribed," says Section 60 of the Election Act 2017.

However, making such papers available online would have enabled more people to access information about their candidates, making the entire election process more transparent. In the past the ECP had been facing strong resistance from the political parties on issue of placing the details of their assets, nomination papers, etc on the website.

All political parties having representation in the last Parliament, including PML-N, PPP and PTI, during their deliberations on electoral reform package had strongly protested against this ECP policy.

The last parliament had even sought from the ECP to avoid placing on its official website the assets and wealth declaration of MPs. The present ECP initially resisted but later succumbed to the political parties’ pressure and even removed from its website the 2013 election data relating to candidates.

The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms had asked the ECP to remove the details of their assets from its website for security reasons and to protect their privacy. However, the presence of nomination papers of all contestants of the 2013 general elections including the returned candidates of the National Assembly as well as provincial assemblies on the ECP website, was considered a great source of information for the voters, citizens as well as the media.

In addition to details of declared local and foreign assets, properties, bank accounts, vehicles etc, the nominations papers also contain information like CNIC and NTN numbers of politicians using which any voter or citizen can check the taxes paid by leaders during any financial year and other details of their investment locally or abroad. Details given in the nomination papers help voters to hold their leader accountable.

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