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June 19, 2021

Govt may talk to ECP on amendments to election law

June 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Government is considering holding a meeting with the Election Commission of Pakistan to discuss the latter’s reservations to the govt-backed amendment passed by the National Assembly in the Election Act 2017.

The ECP’s objections to the amendment approved by the National Assembly as reflected by The News on Wednesday, are not only serious in nature but potentially involve constitutional violations owing to which the government is deliberating on approaching the ECP.

Informed government sources said that it is feared that the amendments, which will become an act of Parliament after their approval by the Senate, are expected to be challenged in the court of law and may end up getting a negative note from the judiciary. In such a scenario, it would not only be embarrassing for the regime but would also jeopardise its “electoral reform” package, which interestingly has also been rejected by the opposition, they say.

The Election Commission of Pakistan had found several provisions of the government’s electoral reform bill unconstitutional and had asserted that the proposed changes would make the ECP powerless in critically important election-related areas.

The ECP was of the view that the government’s bill curtails the Commission’s powers by assigning Nadra the task of preparing and revising electoral rolls despite the Constitution guaranteeing that no law passed by parliament will have the effect of taking away or abridging any of the powers of the Commission.

Before the passage of the amendment bill by the National Assembly, the ECP had formally informed the NA committee on parliamentary affairs about its reservations but the committee in an unholy haste cleared the bill without discussing what the Commission had said.

Few days later, the government hurriedly passed the bill through the National Assembly without allowing any discussion. It not only ignored the point raised by the ECP but also upset the opposition which was of the view that the changes in the election law were bulldozed through the National Assembly by the government without allowing any debate.

In ECP’s views proposed amendments in Section 17, 21, 24, 25, 26, 34, 44, 95, 104 and 231 of the Election Act 2017 were in violation of the Constitution.

In ECP’s views some of the major constitutional violations included in the government bill included giving Nadra the role of preparing and revising electoral rolls. Under the constitution, it is said, the preparation of electoral rolls and revising such rolls periodically is the basic role of the ECP. Such a role of the ECP could only be changed through a constitutional amendment and not through simple legislation.

Similarly, the ECP objected that the rule for the delimitation of constituencies has also been changed in the government bill in disregard to what the constitution says.

The Commission was also of the view that under the constitution no law passed by the Parliament shall have the effect of taking away or abridging any of the powers of the Commissioner or the Election Commission under Part-II of Chapter-VIII of the Constitution but the government backed amendments abridged ECP’s powers.

In a meeting of the ECP, held on Tuesday last, it was lamented that the government had passed the bill through the national assembly and now awaits its approval by the Senate without discussing in the relevant standing committee what the Commission had said about the bill.