ISLAMABAD: The much awaited “The Election Bill 2017” aimed at further strengthening the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and ensuring credible polls is likely to be presented in the current session of the National Assembly.

The government had formed a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in 2014, which drafted the bill after deliberations for more than two years.

The electoral reforms bill had been finalised after 118 meetings, 25 of the main parliamentary committee and 93 of its sub-committee headed by Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Some 631 proposals were received from various political parties and citizens.

The Business Advisory Committee of the National Assembly, which met on last Tuesday, decided that the draft electoral reforms bill would be presented in the House during the current session.

The parliamentary committee has prepared the Election Bill, 2017, with an amalgamation of previous eight different laws and proposing new measures in different areas of electioneering to further empower the ECP for holding free, fair and transparent elections in the country.

A number of initiatives have been suggested in the new bill regarding preparation of voters’ lists, delimitation, simplification of nomination papers, installation of surveillance cameras, penalties for violations, women voters turnout, powers of polling day officials, expediting election disputes resolution, implementation of a Code of Conduct and vote counting.

Under the proposed law, the ECP has been greatly strengthened and made fully independent and autonomous. It has been empowered to issue specific directions for performance of its duties, which would be enforced throughout Pakistan.

It will have full administrative powers to control and transfer election officials during elections and take disciplinary action against them for misconduct. The commissioner shall have full financial powers, including powers to create posts within approved budgetary allocations. The ECP is also being empowered to make rules without prior approval of the president or the government as such rules will be subject to prior publication, seeking suggestions within 15 days of such publication.

Furthermore, the ECP will prepare a comprehensive action plan six months before the elections, specifying all legal and administrative measures that have been taken or are required to be taken. It is also being authorised to redress complaints and grievances during various stages of the election process (other than challenge to the election itself under Article 225), its decisions will be appealable before the Supreme Court.

The ECP will establish a transparent ‘Results Management System’ for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results. It has been empowered to delegate its functions to its members and officers.

The ECP is also being empowered to install surveillance cameras in highly sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring of activities in such polling stations.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017