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January 20, 2021

Parliamentary panel to consider electoral reforms

National

January 20, 2021

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee is set to take into consideration various far-reaching electoral reforms on January 21. The National Assembly standing committee on parliamentary affairs will take up a government bill proposing a number of amendments in the Elections Act 2017 as well as two other bills separately moved by Riaz Fatyana and Aslam Khan.

The official bill tabled by Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan intends to declare ‘accounts receivable’ as an asset of a sitting lawmaker or a contesting candidate. The non-declaration of this nature had earned Nawaz Sharif a lifetime disqualification, barring him from standing for any elected office, and his ouster as the prime minister by the Supreme Court in July 2017.

The bill also proposes that the cut-off date for assessing qualifications and disqualifications of elected lawmakers and contesting candidates will be the date of scrutiny of their nomination papers, which will be effective from October 2, 2017. An explanation has been added to Section 231 of the Elections Act, which says it is clarified that the critical or cut-off date for the purposes of assessing the qualifications or disqualifications under this provision will be the date of scrutiny. However, this provision will take effect from October 2, 2017, when the Elections Act was notified, it said. The existing Section 231 says qualifications and disqualifications for a person to be elected or chosen or to remain a member of parliament or a provincial assembly will be such as are provided in Articles 62 and 63.

Meanwhile, Riaz Fatyana’s private bill proposes that each political party should ensure representation of women from each division in its priority list for the National Assembly. The proposed legislation states that it is the duty of all political parties to confirm the representation of women from all parts of Pakistan. The government is liable to take steps to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life as enshrined in Article 34 of the Constitution. For the fulfillment of this constitutional obligation, it is necessary to make laws for equal opportunity of women from every region in the National Assembly.

Aslam Khan’s private Biometric Electoral Voting Bill says elections will be conducted by Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, which will be procured by the ministry of information technology and telecommunication. These machines will be connected to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). NADRA will be responsible for providing all the data of the citizens to the ministry of information technology and telecommunication. The DRE machines will be set up in all the branches of the National Bank of Pakistan and Habib Bank Limited and will be responsible to entertain the voters for their vote casting. These bank branches will remain open on election days during the hours prescribed for voting.

The bill also says there will be a commission consisting of five people in every district of Pakistan that will reach out to disabled people to enable them to cast their vote and to those remote areas where the facilities of the concerned banks are not available. Each commission will be provided one DRE voting machine and all the required appliances for its operation. There will be an online voting site for overseas voters that will be designed by the ministry of information technology and telecommunication. The online voting site will only be accessed by voters abroad by entering their required personal information.

There will be a commission, comprising as many people as required for the purpose, that will control the DRE voting machines online. After the conclusion of polling, the authorised persons, as appointed by the government for the purpose, will access the machines and gather all the votes that will be announced accordingly. The bill says the electronic voting technology will speed up the counting of ballots and reduce the cost of making payments to the staff who count votes manually. Also, in the long term, expenses are expected to decrease and results can be reported and published faster. The technology will enable voters to save time and expense by being able to vote independently of their physical location. This step could also increase overall voter turnout. The citizen groups benefiting most from the electronic elections, the bill states, are those living abroad and in rural areas far from polling stations as well as the disabled with mobility impairments.