EMPOWERED by parliament and constitutionally autonomous, the Election Commission of Pakistan is responsible for organising and conducting the general election.

In the discharge of its duties, the ECP is also empowered to request the assistance of the executive and state institutions where it deems assistance necessary.

It had been hoped that the first general election to be held since significant electoral reforms were legislated by parliament would see an assured ECP taking greater charge than ever of the full polling process in order to guarantee transparency and fairness.

Yet, the code of conduct issued by the ECP has envisaged a new and unprecedented role for security forces assisting the polling process. Security personnel on deputation from the armed forces will now have a role in the transmission of the election results from polling stations to the ECP.

The code of conduct does specify that election officials are overall in charge of the polling and counting processes and that the result of the count and ballot paper account at the polling station level must be shared with polling agents of candidates and election observers if they request copies.

But it is discouraging that rather than expanding its control of the process, the ECP has seen fit to involve other entities in an unprecedented manner for certain crucial aspects of the poll process.

At a time of heightened political controversies and allegations by some major political parties of anti-democratic interference in the electoral process, surely the ECP should have sought to demonstrate that civilian institutions are capable of delivering on the full range of their duties and responsibilities.

Instead, the ECP seems to have taken a more inert approach to managing the election process than is desirable. Certainly, a balance is needed: too heavy-handed an approach by the ECP could stifle genuine electoral competition.

Yet, the selective and seemingly random interventions by the ECP thus far have hardly inspired confidence. It has become apparent that merely stipulating greater powers for the ECP has not translated into the automatic strengthening and more effective workings of the ECP.

Perhaps the political parties too should take some responsibility for the present less-than-ideal state of affairs concerning the ECP.

The years-long delay in reaching a consensus on electoral reforms in parliament; the PML-N unnecessarily creating controversy by allowing Nawaz Sharif to become party president after his disqualification from public office; and nominating members of the ECP without necessarily considering their executive expertise have, among other factors, prevented the ECP from emerging as the authoritative constitutional body that it is envisaged to be.

Nevertheless, the ECP should itself clarify why it has deemed it necessary to create a role for security personnel in the transmission of election results from the polling station to the ECP. Even if checks and balances are in place, what was the need for such a move?

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2018

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