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Peshawar

August 3, 2015

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Positive upshot of JC report:electoral reforms may materialise

ISLAMABAD: A positive upshot of the report of the inquiry commission that has declared the 2013 general elections fair and free, is the fast track adopted by a bipartisan parliamentary committee to introduce electoral reforms.
“The irregularities listed in the report were the result of lack of electoral reforms, which were needed since long,” an official of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) conceded to The News.
He said that 90% of the lapses and shortcomings mentioned in the findings of the commission would go away after the reforms.
The report underlined the urgency of the reforms package by the committee headed by Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar. It was constituted last year by Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the basis of a letter written to him by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a day before the two sit-ins were launched from Lahore.
After the release of the report, a subcommittee of the main parliamentary panel, headed by Zahid Hamid, is holding back-to-back meetings to give final touches to its recommendations.
“Given the pace the subcommittee is following, it is quite likely that the electoral reforms package would be presented to the parliament for amendments in different laws as well as the Constitution in September this year,” a senior official said.
Dar has stated that the subcommittee has finished its 80% task by deliberating upon six existing electoral laws and finalised its recommendations to a great extent.
The subcommittee has reached consensus on 13 constitutional amendments. The committee members have been asked to consult their parties on contentious issues and come back with their positions in 10 days.
The committee has taken a year to reach this stage. It remained in suspended animation for months with the main party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) boycotting it.
It would not have been in a mood to accelerate its work if the inquiry commission had not detailed the flaws in the electoral process. With the

government being satisfied with its findings, it has now no problem in pacing up the recommendations by the committee and getting them passed by the parliament without any delay.
The faults and errors of the ECP are the only serious matters referred to the report. They have attracted criticism from those who have disapproved the findings.
The report listed nine examples of poor planning by ECP including lack of a formula for determining excess ballots, the decision to rely on only four printing presses, belated shifting of ballots from one press to other, failure to develop effective voter verification method, failure to establish and use an effective results management system, late provision of election material to some polling stations and lack of its own storage space.
The findings said the formula for determining excess ballots i.e. rounding up on the basis of polling stations was not adequately communicated to the Returning Officers (ROs), particularly in Punjab. Even otherwise the method of calculating the number of additional ballots was not uniform throughout Pakistan. For example, in three out of the four provinces (Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) the provincial election commissioners (PECs), who had received a copy of the election action plan, decided on the number of ballots to be printed against no discernible formula despite the formula to be followed being set out in the plan.
In Punjab, the determination was left to the ROs who seemed to have received very little, if any, guidance on this point and as such the number of excess ballots requested per constituency varied greatly.
According to the report, even where the PECs determined the number of ballots there was little uniformity and it is unclear whether rounding up on a polling station-wise basis as per the instructions contained in the action plan were complied with.
For instance in Balochistan the PEC ordered the number of ballots based on the polling scheme and the excess was roughly 8% yet figures reveal that in nearly all constituencies in Balochistan there was an excess of over 10%.
The findings said the decision to rely on only 4 printing presses was fraught with danger especially due to the lack of capacity of the Lahore Printing Press.
The Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) had no automated system for numbering which had to be done manually and therefore extra personnel would most likely be needed for this purpose. An extra press such as the postal foundation should have been contracted from the start and a sufficient number of personnel for manual numbering and binding should have been hired by the start of printing.
Another example of lack of planning was the belated shifting of ballot papers from one press to another and even delayed outsourcing to the postal foundation press, printing of a large number of excess ballots and late hiring of printing related staff due to a lack of capacity and uniformity in large part led to suspicion on the part of the PTI that there may have been an attempt to rig the elections by printing excess ballots at the eleventh hour in a surreptitious manner.
This could have been avoided with proper planning.

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