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April 23, 2019

ECP proposes changes for conduct of elections


April 23, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed various key changes in the legal framework, envisaging electoral processes, including an amendment in Article 51 of the Constitution to provide for carrying out delimitation of constituencies not later than a year before the completion of term of the respective assembly.

The amendments, needless to say, have been based mainly on the challenges faced by the Election Commission during the massive electoral exercise last year i.e. the general election 2018 and the record bye-elections. The Election Commission says that non-issuance of computeriSed national identity cards to women was the major reason behind significant gap between male and female voters.

To this effect, a detailed post-election review report on 2018 polls was released here at the Election Commission Secretariat in the presence of the Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad and other senior officials. It encapsulates the achievements made and challenges faced by the electoral body during various stages of elections, which include delimitation, revision of electoral rolls, appointment of polling staff, printing of ballot papers and introduction of new technology meant for swift transmission of election results. It also talks about the Senate and presidential polls.

The Election Commission has suggested amendment in Article 51 of the constitution to provide that fresh delimitation be carried out not later than one year before the completion of the term of the respective Assembly. Moreover, it says that the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) should prepare digitized maps showing details of locations and legends to avoid overlapping and chance of missing out any area in addition the provincial governments should provide maps strictly in accordance with the notified administrative units for delimitation exercises.

However, the Election Commission in its report describes as the foremost challenge the provision of inaccurate maps to the delimitation committees by the revenue departments. It pointed outs that accuracy of maps was a pre-requisite for error free delimitation. In some cases, maps corresponded neither to revenue record nor the census record. Therefore, the Committee repeatedly returned maps to Revenue Departments / local administrations for necessary rectification.

The report notes that the inconsistencies in revenue record also posed challenge, as there were some serious inconsistencies between revenue record and maps provided by district administration. For instance, in some cases the district administration for its convenience divided the area of a large patwar circle among two or more parts, without any notification.

The Election Commission calls on the government to take immediate steps for official publication of the Census Reports so that the delimitation of Local Government Elections could be timely carried out.

Besides, in the chapter on electoral rolls, the Election Commission says the process was exceptionally challenging as the PBS provided the requisite data in December 2017; six months after the expected timeline. It claims the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) mentioned incomplete addresses in the national identity cards of citizens, which were reflected in the electoral rolls, making it difficult for the verifying officials to locate such voters and even allocation of an appropriate census block code.

It says that non-issuance of CNICs to women voters was the prime reason for the gap between male and female voters (over 12.5 million now). Therefore, it has asked the government to issue direction to NADRA for increasing registration of women, persons with disabilities, minorities and transgender persons by removing existing challenges and barriers. And that directions may also be issued to concerned authorities to simplify processes for PWDs to obtain disability certificate and issuance of NIC with disability logo by NADRA. Federal Government may direct NADRA to obtain accurate address of the applicant while filling of form for registration / issuance of NIC.

It has been proposed that sections 41 (2) and 79 (3) of the elections Act may be omitted to preserve sanctity and secrecy of voters. Under these sections candidates and polling agents can obtain hard and searchable soft copy of the final electoral rolls with photographs of voters including women.

The report recommends that section 210 of the Elections Act, 2017 be amended to provide the opening of an exclusive account in the name of enlisted political parties and all transactions should be made from the same account and no party fund will be deposited in the account of an individual in any case:

It Election Commission suggests amendment in section 202 of the Elections Act, 2017 to provide that the list of 2,000 members provided by political parties for enlistment shall consist of 20 per cent (400) women members. It also seeks amendment in section 216 to set a cut-off date for allocation of election symbol to political parties.

The report also suggests, “necessary legislation may be made in the law providing for significant penalty on such political parties whose election symbols are withheld by the Commission for non-compliance of section 208 (intra party elections) and 210 (submission of assets and liabilities with the Commission)”. It seeks an amendment in the law to bar withdrawal of a party ticket awarded to a candidate on general seats after submission to the returning officer concerned.

It points out that appointment of separate returning officers for national and provincial assemblies created problems in finalization of polling stations and appointment of polling staff, it recommends necessary amendment in the act to provide for appointment of one RO for one National Assembly and its corresponding Provincial Assembly constituencies as per past practice. “In such case the number of AROs may be increased to facilitate the ROs”, it says;

The report recommends appointment of experienced officers as ROs and their exemption from routine office work after issuance of election schedule till conclusion of results.

The report found a general lack of interest and unwillingness for performing election duty; due to heavy administrative responsibility, hardships and the potential of political coercion against a meager amount of financial benefit, it proposes that the electoral staff be assigned duties nearest to their residences with increased financial incentives.

Citing the gigantic task of printing millions of ballot papers, it has been recommended that time for holding elections be extended from 60 to 90 days and printing of non-sensitive materials be allowed from local open market as the printing capacity of government presses is insufficient. “Section 71(4) of the Elections Act, 2017 may be appropriately amended to provide for “Paper with security feature” instead of “watermark paper” so that the paper with security feature may be manufactured within the country” the report reads. It also suggests amendment in the Act to provide for name box in Form A for writing name of the candidate in Urdu as per CNIC.

The report carries also a brief mention of the Result Transmission System (RTS) controversy, which erupted soon after the electoral exercise was over and says RTS was 3G / 4G supported software, which required availability of internet connectivity (3G / 4G) at 100 per cent polling stations. “Since 3G /4G density was available only at 60 per cent of areas of the country as per PTA, implementation of RTS at all the polling stations was a great challenge for the Commission”, it says.

The report points out that arrangement of mobile devices for use in RTS across the country at more than 85, 000 polling station was a great challenge, involving huge public money; “training on RTS to presiding officers and Sr. APOs, being non-tech savvy due to generation gap, was also a challenge”. The Election Commission emphasizes that introduction of new technology should not be mandatory under the law until it becomes fool-proof and practicable in the field.

Replying to questions, the ECP secretary said that the Election Commission on its own, could not declare any party a terrorist entity, as for this, other government departments were around for this purpose and that about a particular party, it had sought report from the Ministry of Interior, which said it had links with proscribed personalities. Therefore, so far it was not registered.