SC orders major changes to ensure fair polls

ISLAMABAD, June 8: In a comprehensive and wide-ranging suggestion aimed at discouraging extravagance, show of wealth, power and pageantry in future elections, the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday to monitor election expenses from the day of its announcement.

In its judgment the court issued after deciding a number of petitions challenging the present electioneering practices, the commission was ordered to devise a mechanism obliging a candidate to justify the expenses he incurred during electioneering.

Authored by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the verdict decided a set of petitions and suggestions put forth by political parties — Watan Party Pakistan, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, Pakistan Muslim League-N, Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Jamaat-i-Islami — and representatives of civil society and academicians.

The petitioners have requested the court to declare that the prevailing electioneering practices involving wealth, power and influence are against the mandate of the Constitution which requires free, fair, just and honest elections on a level-playing field.

They also sought a pronouncement that elections cannot be held in a fair and impartial manner without remedying the problems relating to the present electioneering practices in accordance with the mandate of the Constitution.

The court ruled that the ECP should prepare a declaration form on which a candidate could specify the account number in a scheduled bank in which the amount election expenses would be deposited. All transactions relating to election expenses should be made only through the specified account.

“In the ‘First Past the Post’ system of election, the winning candidate does not necessarily receive an absolute majority of all votes cast and, therefore, such a candidate does not command the majority of the votes polled. As such, the system of ‘First Past the Post’ violates the principle of majority,” the 87-page verdict said.

It asked the ECP to explore ways of introducing an appropriate system of election including ‘run-off election’ to ensure true representation of the people and rule of the majority in parliament and provincial assemblies.

The court ordered the ECP to strictly implement all election laws in discharge of Article 218(3) of the Constitution and Representation of the People Act and other laws/rules.

“The commission is obliged to ensure that all elections witness a substantial participation of the electorate and take all necessary steps to make voting compulsory in Pakistan. The ECP is empowered to not only check illegal actions relating to the election (violating the limits set for campaign finance) or corrupt practices (bribery), but also review all election activities, including Jalsas, Jaloos, (corner and public meetings) and use of loudspeakers. The commission is also empowered to take pre-emptive measures to ensure that the spirit of democracy and ‘fairness, justness and honesty’ of elections is fully observed,” the verdict said.

It asked the ECP to hold meetings with candidates and apprise them of relevant laws/rules and receive from them statements of expenses on a weekly basis by engaging election staff and carrying out random inspection at different places.

All transactions relating to election expenses should be entered into with GST-registered firms.

To facilitate voters, the verdict said, the number of polling stations should be increased and these should not be at a distance of more than two kilometres from the residences of voters. Routes of transport to be arranged by the commission should be widely advertised in print and electronic media for information of the general public.

Referring to the handing over of “Perchis” (voting number) to the voters at election camps, the verdict said the ECP should take steps to provide the requisite information to the voters by other means. Setting up of election camps near polling stations should be banned forthwith and the ECP might manage to dispatch extracts from the voters’ list in the name of one or more persons living in a house at least seven days before the polling day by post, or to save the postage by annexing such extracts with any of the utility bill.

The verdict said only such campaign activities ought to be permitted which fulfilled the purpose of the election campaign and within the reach of the common man. It recalled that the petitioners had recommended certain activities like door-to-door campaign, manifesto and canvassing on state television and radio by candidates. These should be encouraged by the ECP on the basis of their merit.

“To ensure fair and transparent election, if need be, instead of involving the employees of provincial governments, the employees of federal government/autonomous organisations/agencies, including the armed and para-armed forces, may be instructed to carry out stipulated functions at the polling stations,” the court said.

Referring to computerised balloting, the court said it expected the ECP to take effective steps at an appropriate time. And to achieve the goal of free, fair, honest and just elections, the commission should accurately prepare and revise the electoral roll through credible and independent agencies.

The court ordered the ECP to undertake door-to-door checking of voters’ lists and complete the process of updating/revising the electoral roll by engaging, if needed, the army and Frontier Corps to ensure transparency.

“Corrective measures are required to be taken by the commission to ensure that election disputes are resolved at the earliest. The ECP may also consider establishing a panel of lawyers well conversant with election laws at the state expense to provide free legal services to the marginalised segments of society,” the verdict said.

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