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July 11, 2018

ECP gives extended powers to army

Top Story

July 11, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has given enormous powers, including some relating to election processes, to army personnel to be deployed for election duties like never before.

In certain situations, the army personnel deployed outside or inside the polling station for security reasons will act as monitor to watch election processes including even the conduct of the Presiding Officer and other election staff. Designated army personnel will also be given magistrate powers, which when used could not be questioned as have been linked with Article 245 of the Constitution.

In certain pure election matters, the army personnel will act as partners to the election staff. For examples, the Election Act 2017 says, “The Presiding Officer shall immediately take snapshot of the Result of the Count and, as soon as connectivity is available and it is practicable, electronically send it to the Commission and the Returning Officer before sending the original documents under Section 90.”

However, in the code of conduct framed for the army and security officials, these security officials have been given the task to “coordinate in a manner that snapshots of Form 45 (result of the count) and tabulated results has been taken and sent through Result Transmission System (RTS) to the ECP and Returning Officer by respective Presiding Officers.

Although a Presiding Officer is the overall in-charge of the polling station and as per the law the security personnel are placed under him to assist him in smooth and effective discharge of his lawful duties, under the ECP’s latest code of conduct these security personnel can act against the Presiding Officer in case of any irregularity or malpractice in election processes and vote counting.

Under the code of conduct, in case of any irregularity by a polling agent or any member of polling staff or in case of malpractice in counting process, the security personnel shall bring the matter to the knowledge of Presiding Officer and take necessary direction from him in the matter. If irregularity or malpractice continues, the military personnel shall inform his officer in-charge through the fasted means available, who will take action in light of the powers delegated to him and will also inform Returning Officer.

The designated officer in-charge of Pakistan Armed Forces/civil armed forces shall exercise powers of Magistrate First Class. The troops deployed for the election duties shall also be governed by Article 245 of the Constitution and Section 4 & 5 of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

Article 245 reads as: “245. Functions of Armed Forces.- 1[(1)] The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

(2) The validity of any direction issued by the Federal Government under clause (1), shall not be called in question in any Court.

(3) A High Court shall not exercise any jurisdiction under Article 199 in relation to any area in which the Armed Forced of Pakistan are, for the time being, acting in aid of civil power in pursuance of Article 245:

Provided that this clause shall not be deemed to affect the jurisdiction of the High Court in respect of any proceeding pending immediately before the day on which the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power.

(4) Any proceeding in relation to an area referred to in clause (3) instituted on or after the day the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power and pending in any High Court shall remain suspended for the period during which the Armed Forces are so acting.”

According to an ECP notification issued on Tuesday, armed forces officials in-charge at polling stations will have the powers of ‘Magistrate First Class’ for the period of their deployment “to take cognizance” of certain offences and try them “in a summary way in accordance with the provisions of the said Code relating to summary trials”.

Now with this notification two official will be exercising First Class Magisterial Powers in Polling Station— Presiding Officer and Army’s designated officer in-charge.

ECP sources said that the role of the army has been extended as against the past to make their presence meaningful for the holding of free, fair and impartial elections. These sources said that their role has been extended to check malpractices and irregularities in the election process.

There are some, who however apprehend that with such extended role of the army during the elections, some post election complications may develop. If the army exercises such powers on election day, will they be accountable during election disputes and tribunal proceedings after election, a source said.

The source added as per the code of conduct the army officer in-charge can overrule and overtake role of Presiding Officer, who as per law is ultimate authority in the polling station. Moreover, it is objected that the officer in-charge of army can act independent of Returning Officer as the code of conduct says that he will act and also inform Returning officer — means not seeking his permission.

It has also been questioned if the ECP had consulted political parties before giving extended powers to the army.