ISLAMABAD: The administrative powers of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) have been increased, but it will not be a failure of the law if the commission does not use its powers, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said at a dialogue on Tuesday.

The dialogue, titled ‘Expediting Electoral Reforms in Pakistan’, was organised by Democracy Reporting International (DRI).

Parliamentarians from various political parties and civil society representatives, during the event, discussed two interim reports by the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) on the draft Elections Bill 2017. Speakers urged that the report’s recommendations be taken into consideration, and said the law should be made before the 2018 general elections.

“I cannot understand why members of the ECP [are fearful]. The commission is a constitutional body and the security of its services is as good as a judge of the Supreme Court. If the ECP fails to exercise its powers, who should be blamed,” Mr Rabbani asked.

Social reforms should be implemented alongside electoral reforms, says HRCP secretary general

“During past elections, the ECP turned a blind eye to transfers and postings even though according to the law only the ECP can do transfers and postings. Laws can be very good, but if they are not implemented they will be lying on a shelf,” he added.

Mr Rabbani also said the civil-military bureaucracy and the elite classes have to see if they are ready to allow democracy in the country and admit that the common people are masters of their destiny.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Secretary General I.A. Rehman said social reforms should be implemented alongside electoral reforms.

“Exercises for election reforms, which mean free, fair and democratic elections, should have been completed in 2014, but now the process should be expedited with 16 months left before the next general elections.

In addition, the differences between poor and rich should be removed, otherwise the CNICs of the poor will remain in the pockets of the elite class,” he said.

Mr Rehman also suggested that women and non-Muslims should be elected through direct elections rather than reserved seats.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak from the Awami National Party said rigging has been a problem in the country since 1956, and after 1970 elections became a part of national security. “Gen Pervez Musharraf claimed some parties had demanded more seats but he was not ready for that, which shows that elections are managed in Pakistan,” he said.

National Party Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini said a large number of Balochistan residents are not registered on polling lists, and claimed that controlled elections are held in the province.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s provincial legislator, Faisal Subzwari said delimitation is very importance, because there are 400,000 votes in a constituency in urban Sindh and 40,000 voters in rural areas.

Qaumi Watan Party’s Meraj Humayun Khan said the representation of women and minorities should be increased, adding that women cannot visit polling stations due to media coverage.

Dr Nosheen Hamid from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf noted an expenditure limit has been fixed for candidates, but not for political parties.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Senator Usman Kakar said the ECP should provide polling staff rather than hiring teachers for the job, and added that blocked CNICs belonging to Pakhtuns should be unblocked before elections.

A member of the reforms committee, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sahibzada Tariqullah, said 70 meetings have been held over the last two years, and a report will be finalised soon.

PML-N MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani added that the committee’s recommendations will be implemented in the 2018 elections, as the PML-N has promised electoral reforms. Dr Vankwani said the word ‘minorities’ should be replaced by ‘non-Muslim’.

A representative of the Free and Fair Election Network, Rasheed Chaudhry, said delimitation of constituencies will be carried out before the elections if laws are made, because the census is no longer linked to delimitation.

“However, reports say the government can suggest that the SC ban a political party, a power we suggest should lie with the election commission. Reports also suggested that the election commission will have to get its rules approved by the government, because of which a conflict of interest will arise,” Mr Chaudhry added.

Strengthening Participatory Organisation chief executive Naseer Memon said the reforms should be carried out as soon as possible, so parties are aware of the rules.

“If election reforms are not implemented it will prove that we have not learnt anything from our previous mistakes,” he added.

DRI representative Hassan Nasir Mirbahar recommended a deadline for the delimitation of constituencies a year before the elections, and the cross-checking of results of returning officers.

Published in Dawn January 4th, 2017