The Election Commission of Pakistan — often referred to by its abbreviation ECP — is a constitutionally empowered, autonomous body responsible for holding general, local body and by-elections.
In the absence of an elected government, when a caretaker setup is in place, the ECP also serves as the ratifier of bureaucratic decisions and arbitrator of disputes.
The person heading the ECP is called the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) who, along with four provincial election commissioners, formulates rules and regulations for the Commission. The CEC post is currently held by retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza.
While the CEC and the quartet of provincial heads are responsible for the watchdog's legislative role, the ECP secretary is in charge of the administrative front.
Below are the officials who under the election commissioners conduct the election.
District Returning Officer
Right below the first tier of the ECP administrators lie the District Returning Officers (DRO) who, as their designation gives away, are appointed to each district.
The DROs are responsible for the election process in the entire district and report directly to the provincial commissioners
He or she is responsible for liaison among their subordinates, provincial election commission and regional authorities. A DRO supervises provisional election results from returning officers to the commission. The officer ensures implementation of the code of conduct for election in letter and spirit.
A DRO can sentence offenders to up to three years in jail, or Rs100,000 in fines, or both.
Next in the ECP's hierarchy are Returning Officers (RO), who oversee the process of polling in the entire area that comes under their jurisdiction.
The ROs, who must be judges by profession, issue directions in case of any untoward incidents at any of the polling stations that fall under their area of command
An RO imparts training to the polling staff. At the end of the election day, ROs collect results of the count from presiding officers and forward them to DROs. He or she disposes of complaints and exercises magisterial powers, where required.
Presiding officers are the highest authorities at polling stations. They are responsible for the smooth running of the affairs, provision of required material to polling staff and coordination with government agencies, including police, etc. A presiding officer reports to a returning officer.
Among the polling day responsibilities of presiding officers is the responsibility to ensure that every qualified voter whose name is in the electoral roll is entitled to one ballot paper (each for the national and provincial assembly) and is permitted to cast one and one vote only. They are also required to ensure that the ballot boxes are not tampered with and the secrecy of each voter’s vote is maintained.
Presiding officers are responsible for ensuring that every voter is permitted to cast one and one vote only
A presiding officer ensures that observers, polling agents, candidates and voters all abide by the ECP's code of conduct. The officer also oversees security arrangements at polling stations.
Once polling closes, the officer conducts the count and prepares a statement of count for communication to the Returning Officer. Moreover, he/she also affixes a statement of count outside the polling station, and announces the results and supplies copies of results to all the polling agents concerned.
Monitoring the law and order situation around the polling station and exercising magisterial powers as and when required is also the responsibility of the presiding officer.
A polling officer is tasked with facilitating the polling process. He/she verifies the particulars of each and every voter at the polling booth and reports to a presiding officer.
Checks voter's CNIC
The officer ensures that each and every voter has an original computerised national identity card. He or she strikes off names of voters from the electoral list, then obtains thumb impression of the voter on a list.
Assistant Presiding Officer
This is the officer deployed to assist voters at the polling station. On polling day, this official places an ink mark on the voters' thumbs and provides them with two ballot papers — one each for the national and provincial assembly candidates.
The assistant presiding officer signs the back of the ballot paper and on the counterfoil. Once the voting time is over, the official also participates in the counting process. He/she reports to the polling officer.
Illustrations: Mushba Said