A significant reform would be the addition of a provision in Section 15 which deals with the complaints about polling staff and officers
The Elections Act 2017 caused political uproar on its legislation. The major opposition parties moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the statute. However, it represented the first major electoral reform since Pakistan’s first direct elections in 1970.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) suffered a public relations setback ahead of the Senate Elections of 2021 when the Supreme Court refused to accept the Federation’s contention that Senate elections fall outside the scope of Article 226 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The PTI has since decided to introduce its own electoral reforms, which according to Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan will ensure transparency in the democratic process and a level playing field for all parties.
The reform package proposed by the PTI has several items. The first is an amendment to Section 103 that will allow the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) ostensibly to deal with the rigging complaints. Second, Section 94 is to be amended to extend the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis. A third reform will require that political parties have a minimum of 10,000 registered members. An amendment to be added as Section 213(A) will require that the parties hold annual conventions where their members can speak up and comment on the performance of the party and its leaders.
The reform package proposed by the PTI has several items. The first is an amendment to Section 103 that will allow the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) ostensibly to deal with the rigging complaints.
Babar Awan has also stated that it is being proposed that preparation of electoral rolls to based on NADRA data. He says delimitation of constituencies should be on the basis of registered voters and not census data. This, he claims, will put paid to all accusations of rigging in relation to extra ballot papers.
A significant change would be the addition of a provision in Section 15, which deals with complaints about polling staff and officers. The new provision will allow the candidates to challenge the appointment of a polling officer. The section currently gives the right to every citizen to file a complaint with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on a wide array of aspects of polling arrangements. The ECP is required to address the complaints within 30 days of their receipt and publish information regarding the complaints on its website. An exception to Section 15 is that petitions related to candidacy and results are limited to candidates.
Losing candidates routinely accuse the returned candidates of rigging elections, often with help from state functionaries. The proposed amendment to Section 15 will allow the candidates to challenge the appointment of polling staff. This can be potentially beneficial by preventing polling to be supervised by officers suspected by some candidate(s) of bias against them. One of the complaints traditionally has been that the polling staff is biased.
After the 2018 elections, 25 petitions were filed in the Punjab in relation to rigging. Out of these 11 were filed by the Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz and 13 by the PTI. In the recent Karachi by-election, the PPP was accused of rigging by several losing candidates.
The writer is an Advocate of the High Courts currently practising in Lahore