ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has stepped up preparations for the next general elections to avoid any last-minute problems in the gigantic exercise. It plans to start training 700,000 polling staff by June.

According to a paper titled “Road to general election-2018” placed by the ECP on its website, all provincial chief secretaries, secretary of the Establishment Division and heads of federal entities were asked in July 2016 to provide a list of officers who might be available in those departments in January 2018, in order to obtain and train the requisite number of polling staff. They are required to be below 55 years in age, computer literate and have ability to use smartphones and enjoy good reputation.

It says names of 50,000 officers had been received from provinces and the federal government by Dec 31, 2016. A data-bank has been created indicating the details and status of the officers, who could be utilised as per plan. “The ECP would try to get the requisite number of 700,000 officials and start their training by June 2017 onward,” it reads.

Training of 700,000 polling staff to begin by June

Preparation of training material and logistic arrangements are under way in consultation with the stakeholders. The Federal Election Academy has started trainings of the regular staff and officers of the ECP in rented premises of Postal Staff College, Islamabad.

It has been planned that all the 1,649 officials/officers of the ECP from BPS-8 to BPS-21 would be trained much before the 2018 general elections. A dedicated training wing has been actively coordinating with the training institutes in the country and abroad and research in the field would hopefully bring optimum improvement in the capacity-building of the staff.

Approximately 75,000 polling stations were established during the rec­ent local government elections in the country. An exercise to verify existence and status of these polling stations is in process in collaboration with the concerned provincial and local government departments. As of Dec 31, 2016, 11,081 polling stations have been verified, their coordinates and locations/maps uploaded to the ECP website through GIS for public interest. It is hoped that this exercise would be completed by June 30 this year.

Use of technology would prove to be a better tool minimising the discretion in respect of change of the polling station by un-authorised officials. Existence of the approved polling station would further be linked with the public information system available on dedicated cellphone number 8300.

The paper says proposed draft of the election bill is expected to be finalised and passed during the year 2017. It is hoped that promulgation of the Election Act, 2017, would simplify the laws and strengthen the electoral process.

Registration and correction of votes through the Computerised Electoral Rolls System (CERS) was initiated by the ECP on Jan 1, 2017 after establishment of its own CERS. Infrastructure at the secretariat, provinces and off­ices of the district election commissi­oners is being installed. All these off­ices will be connected through dedicated intra-net service after which applications for registration of fresh votes and/or change will be entertained in the district concerned by the registration officer/DEC and forwarded to the system through the dedicated service for updation of the data-bank.

A dedicated Monitoring Wing has been established in the ECP to monitor the electoral activities. Terms of reference of the wing cover monitoring of pre-poll, poll-day and post poll activities. The government has been approached for creation of 141 new posts for the Monitoring Wing along with financial and logistic allocations.

The ECP is conceiving use of multiple electoral technologies during the next elections. Pilot tests of mobile apps for efficient and effective communication of poll results under the improved Result Management System (RMS) were used during the by-elections in the year. A server having a capacity of 200GB is operational for the purpose.

It says process for purchase of 400 electronic voting machines and 300 bio-metric verification machines is in the final stage. These machines would be used for pilot tests during the bye-elections up to 2018.

The ECP paper discloses that the Cabinet Division has moved a summary to the prime minister for grant of Rs864 million for purchase of new machines enhancing the capacity of Printing Corporation of Pakistan to print the entire 200 million ballot papers. It says even if it is not done the ECP has an alternate strategy in place.

About out of country voting, it refers to a study conducted by UNDP which says there are limited options for Pakistan to consider the out of country voting during 2018 general elections. The report lists multiple legal, logistical and financial implications. It also apprehends involvement of risks of buying of votes, coercing, impersonation and lack of oversights, prone to rigging of the process.

The report intimated that Switzer­land conducted 229 pilots for its 132,000 such voters since the year 2000. Still the Federal Council of the country endorsed “security first principle” before launch of internet out of country voting. It says Nadra and ECP after consideration of the legal, operational and security issues would forward a feasibility report to the parliament.

Published in Dawn January 29th, 2017