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May 10, 2019

General Elections 2018: Presiding Officers were unable to transmit Form 45 through RTS

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May 10, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) says in its report that due to certain technical and operational issues, all the presiding officers (POs) were not able to send electronic copy of Form 45 through the result transmission system (RTS) because of absence of or poor connectivity, lack of smart phones and hardware/software application glitch at run time.

The ECP report on the 2018 general elections said that it was observed that on the poll day at mid-night some POs remained unable to send data due to these reasons.

Meanwhile, the report also said that necessary amendment may be made in the Elections Act to provide that a party ticket once submitted with the returning officer (RO) in favour of a candidate on general seats shall not be recalled, withdrawn or replaced.

The report said that as per the law, the PO was required to take snapshot of the result of the count (Form 45) and as soon as connectivity is available, and it is practicable electronically send it to the ECP and the RO.

The report further said that the RTS was 3G/4G supported software which required availability of Internet connectivity (3G/4G) at 100% polling stations. Since 3G/4G density was available only at 60% areas of Pakistan as per the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), implementation of RTS at all the polling stations was a great challenge for the ECP.

According to it, arrangement of mobile devices for use in RTS across Pakistan at more than 85,000 polling stations was another challenge which involved huge public money. Training about RTS to POs and Senior Assistant POs (SAPOs) being non-tech savvy due to generation gap was also a challenge.

The report recommended that introduction of new technology should not be mandatory under the law until it becomes foolproof and practicable in the field. The parliament may reconsider the relevant provision of the Elections Act keeping in view the on-ground challenges, it suggested.

According to the report, the RTS project was outsourced to the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra) on turn-key basis for effective implementation of the relevant section of the Elections Act. Accordingly, Nadra developed, the software of RTS for swift transmission of Form-45 electronically by the POs from the polling stations to the ROs and ECP Secretariat during general elections. It developed RTS App for the mobile platform (Android and Apple) and implemented it after providing certificates to the ECP with regard to “load” and “performance testing” and “fitness of the software”.

For effective implementation of the RTS in general elections, the report said, training to 168,979 POs along with SAPOs was imparted for its use on the poll day for transmission of results. About 98% mobile devices of POs or SAPOs were registered for transmission of Form 45 through RTS.

The report said an orientation session was arranged for district ROs and ROs on practical functions of RTS. The steps involved in RTS for result processing were that the PO after taking snapshot of Form 45 was required to send the same to RO and the ECP through RTS App installed in his mobile; and after ensuring that snapshot is clear, the PO clicked on “send” button where after snapshots were sent to RO and ECP portal from where connectivity was available.

It was also recommended that training in future may be further improved to ensure that security officials clearly understand the requirements of election duty, security plan and the ECP’s codes of conduct, especially in terms of coordination with election and polling officials, importance of consistent application of laws and rules during polling process and facilitation to voters, media persons and observers.

The report recommended that as a long-term measure, the federal and provincial governments may take steps to increase women representation in the law enforcement agencies to minimise deficiency of female security personnel. Police personnel engaged for security duty in connection with elections may also be granted honoraria. It also proposed that serving judges of high court may be appointed for election tribunals (ETs) to hear poll related matters and the law may be amended accordingly.

The report pointed out that the experience of ETs being composed of retired judges had been a matter full of challenges, which was faced in all provinces in the past. Such challenges involved various issues like the lawyers of petitioners seeking unjustified adjournments due to comparatively less administrative control. Resultantly the petitions were not decided within stipulated period.

Furthermore, administrative issues such as burden on national exchequer like appointment of complementary staff, accommodation of office of the tribunal, official vehicles, security issues, extremely prolonged disposal of petitions defying the very purpose of the ETs to dispose of petitions within 120 days. Most of the cases were not finalised in the given timeframe.