ISLAMABAD: The parliamentary committee on electoral reforms on Friday signed a bill on unified electoral laws that clubs together eight electoral laws to make one comprehensive law governing all election-related activities and will be tabled before parliament for final approval.
The Election Bill 2017 was signed at a meeting of the committee presided over by its chairman Senator Ishaq Dar.
It seeks to curb mushroom growth of political parties by making it mandatory for a new political party to have at least 2,000 members and deposit a registration fee of Rs200,000.
Bill to be shortly brought to both houses of parliament for passage
Under the proposed law, if the turnout of women voters is less than 10 per cent of the total votes polled in a constituency, the ECP may presume that women have been restrained through an agreement from casting votes and may declare polling at one or more polling stations or election in the whole constituency void.
If the variation in the number of male and female voters in a constituency is more than 10 per cent, special measures will be taken by the ECP to reduce such variation.
The bill increases maximum limit of election expenses and sets it at Rs4 million for National Assembly, Rs2m for provincial assemblies and Rs1.50m for Senate elections.
Every lawmaker will be required to submit annual wealth statement on the same form which is submitted under the Income Tax Ordinance 2001. In case of failure to file wealth statement, the ECP may suspend membership of the defaulting member, and if the default continues beyond 60 days, it will issue a show-cause notice for termination of the membership.
The commission will scrutinise the wealth statement and in case it is found to be false, it may order prosecution of the member on the charge of indulgence in corrupt practices.
An interesting feature of the bill is that in case of equal number of votes obtained by two candidates, both will be declared returned candidates and each will become member for the half term. The candidate who will be member for the first half term will be decided by draw of lots.
Persons with any physical disability holding computerised national identity card with a logo for physical disability will be able to cast their votes through postal ballot.
The ECP will appoint district returning officers, returning officers and assistant returning officers at least 60 days before the issuance of election schedule.
As far as practicable, the distance between a polling station and the houses of voters assigned to it will not exceed one kilometre. List of polling stations/polling scheme will be published at least 30 days before the polling day. The ECP will be empowered to install surveillance cameras in highly sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring of activities in such polling stations.
Under the bill, the nomination form has been simplified and the same form has been prescribed for candidate for all seats — a provision the ECP has reservations about. The commission believes that the forms are part of the rules to be framed by it.
Hard and soft (in USB-PDF format) copies of electoral polls (with photographs of voters) will be provided to all candidates on payment of costs.
“If constituency-wise electoral rolls data is available on USBs in a searchable format, the national database of Pakistani citizens can be easily built. There are serious security and privacy concerns on the availability of national data in public domain, particularly availability of personal particulars and photographs of female voters can have sensitive repercussions in our cultural perspective,” Col Ejaz Ahmed, an expert on electoral reforms and information technology, observed.
He said electoral rolls data also included family details of leaders of ruling and opposition parties, parliamentarians, serving and retired top level government officials, military commanders, judiciary, academia, scholars, intellectuals, technocrats, celebrities and leading businessmen. “This will compromise national security and threaten privacy of citizens. This strategic data available in public domain will be open to misuse by criminals, hackers and terrorists. This data can be used and misused by hostile agencies for activities like trapping innocent citizens in terrorist activities,” he warned.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2017