THE Election Commission of Pakistan has issued ads in the print media urging people to check if their names are on the 2012 final electoral rolls and to make corrections if there are errors in the data. The rolls have been placed in the offices of the district election commissioners for verification. Essentially, the responsibility of verification has been placed on the citizen. This is where political parties need to step in and mobilise voters to register and verify. In a related development, Nadra says 96 per cent of adults in Pakistan — 92 million people — have been issued CNICs. This figure is significant considering voter registration is linked to possessing an identity card. As per the ECP’s figures there are just over 84 million registered voters in the country. Hence both the ECP and Nadra must clarify the difference between the number of registered voters and the official figures for those possessing CNICs.
The numbers game has created a controversy, with independent claims that up to 20 million voters have not been registered. What lies at the root of this problem is the absence of up-to-date population data in the country. Giving population projections is not Nadra or the Election Commission’s job. Hence the confusion over the number of voters is a reminder of why a credible, controversy-free census is important. It is essential that a reliable data pool — and not mere estimates — is available so that national exercises, such as finalisation of the voters’ list, are carried out in a non-controversial fashion.
But perhaps the key points that need to be addressed are the registration of citizens and their access in order to facilitate registration and verification. If these two areas are worked on the gap between the official number of voters and the millions who have reportedly been left out could be narrowed. But at the same time, it should be remembered that a large number of CNICs are issued every month, and the ECP must keep pace with the increasing number of newly enfranchised citizens until the announcement of the election schedule. The suggestion that verification take place at the local level should be considered as it is difficult and expensive for people to travel to district headquarters, especially for those living in remote areas. Along with the print campaign, public-awareness messages regarding the voters’ list need to be broadcast in the electronic media in Urdu and regional languages. A sustained effort is required by all stakeholders to make the voters’ list as error-free as possible to pave the way for free and fair polls.