ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court cast its vote in favour of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday by telling it not to show any weakness in holding the general election and ensuring that it was free from all kinds of malaise, an assertive ECP decided to implement the unfinished agenda of electoral reforms.
Invoking Article 190 of the Constitution which authorises the court to call any executive authority in its aid, the Supreme Court on Tuesday commanded the government not to drag its feet in abiding by constitutional provisions and its earlier verdict for ensuring free, fair and transparent elections.
The reported friction between the ECP and the Ministry of Law on proposed changes in nomination papers for candidates had caught the attention of the apex court which specifically ordered the executive authorities in clear terms not to show any hesitation in implementing the June 8, 2012 verdict and also to enforce Article 218(3) of the Constitution which empowered the ECP to guard against corrupt practices for impartial elections.
The ruling has virtually closed the doors for any legal challenge to the ECP decision to get the amended nomination papers printed, without a stamp of endorsement by the president.
The attention of a three-judge SC bench was drawn to the controversy by an office note. The bench had taken up a case relating to implementation of its verdict of June 8 last year.
“Why the ECP is feeling so weak in not arranging the election process in accordance with Article 218(3),” the chief justice observed. He asked if the court should always approach the law ministry before passing judgments each time. “The nation has suffered dearly and, therefore, it’s high time to check (corrupt practices),” the chief justice observed.
The court ordered the ECP to submit details along with a comparative statement and other steps taken to implement the June 8 verdict when Munir Paracha, the counsel for the ECP, informed it that the commission had suggested some two dozen amendments to election laws.
“In my opinion, the apex court by invoking Article 190 has empowered the ECP to go ahead with any decision, instead of waiting for approval from any highest office, that helps ensure free and fair elections in the country,” former Supreme Court Bar Association president Tariq Mehmood commented.
ELECTORAL REFORMS: Buoyed by the SC decision, the ECP which had on Monday decided against continuing to wait for the president’s approval, is now gearing up to confront parliament.
A member of the ECP told Dawn that the draft of a bill prepared by the commission proposing amendments to about 24 sections of the Representation of People’s Act, 1976 was yet to reach parliament. If the amendments were not passed before the expiry of National Assembly’s term, the commission would get them done through an ordinance, he added.
He said the caretaker prime minister would be asked to advise the president to promulgate the ordinance, adding that if the advice not acted upon within 15 days the ordinance would automatically become a law.
The member confirmed that the parliamentary committee on election procedures, along with the law minister, had sought a meeting with the ECP but was told that it was not possible before March 18 (Monday) because Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim was not feeling well.
He said the CEC had allowed members of the commission to meet the committee in his absence, but it was finally decided that the meeting would be held on Monday when he came to Islamabad after recovery.
The draft bill seeks an increase in the period for nomination papers’ scrutiny from seven to 14 days and elimination of the president’s role in the appointment of election tribunals.
Under the existing law, the tribunals are nominated by the chief election commissioner with the approval of the president, but under the proposed bill they will be nominated by the ECP in consultation with the chief justice of the high court concerned.
The ECP seeks to suspend any public functionary or member of law-enforcement agencies who disobeys an order or fails to carry out any instruction issued by the commission or an authorised officer or takes any step meant to influence election results in any manner.
Under the proposed bill, the commission will be competent to initiate and finalise disciplinary action and impose any penalty on an official for misconduct.
The ECP proposes to increase the fee of nomination paper from Rs4,000 to Rs50,000 for the National Assembly and from Rs2,000 to Rs25,000 for a provincial assembly. It suggests that the amount of a candidate who bags less than one-fourth of the total votes polled should not be refunded. It seeks an increase in the fee for challenging a vote from Rs2 to Rs10.
The bill suggests submission of election petitions to the election tribunal concerned, and not to the chief election commissioner, and only a returned candidate should be allowed to be made respondent in a petition. The candidates will not be required to sign each and every schedule or annexure with the petition.
The draft bill suggests a penalty of Rs100,000 for impersonation, failure to submit return of election expenses in 30 days, violation of a bar on affixing posters, banners and hoardings larger than the prescribed size and violation of a ban on wall-chalking, use of loudspeakers, canvassing near polling stations or demonstrating disorderly conduct near polling stations.
A person who violates the code of conduct will be liable to a penalty up to Rs100,000. The penalty for corrupt practices, including capturing polling stations and breach of election duty, should be Rs50,000, the bill suggests.