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Jamaat seeks removal of Elections Act provision linking voters to addresses on CNICs

Updated December 06, 2018


A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Peshawar during the July 25 elections. —Photo by Ghulam Dastageer
A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Peshawar during the July 25 elections. —Photo by Ghulam Dastageer

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) has prepared a bill seeking amendments in the Elections Act, 2017, aimed at doing away with provisions that link the registration of voters with the temporary or permanent address mentioned on their computerised national identity cards (CNICs).

The proposed bill holds importance as nearly 15 million voters, enrolled in areas other than the addresses stated on their CNICs, are set to be shifted by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to their permanent or temporary addresses, if they fail to decide where they want to be registered as voters by the deadline of December 31.

Editorial: Is changing polling areas for 15 million voters a good decision?

The amendment bill submitted to the National Assembly and Senate secretariats by the JI lawmakers seeks the omission of sub-sections 1, 2, 3, and a condition added to sub-section 4, of Section 27 (Place of residence) of the Elections Act.

Sub-section 1 of Section 27 states that a person shall be deemed to be resident of an electoral area if his or her temporary or permanent address on their CNIC issued by the National Database and Registration Authority lies in the said electoral area.

Under sub-sections 2 and 3, a person who is in the service of Pakistan can apply to the registration officer for enrolment in the electoral area in which he or she temporarily resides for being in the service of Pakistan and the facility is also available to their spouse and children.

Meanwhile, sub-section 4 of Section 27 reads: “Notwithstanding, anything contained in this section or any other provision of this Chapter, the registration of a voter at an address other than the permanent or temporary address mentioned in his National Identity Card shall remain valid till he applies for transfer of his vote or for modification or renewal of his National Identity Card in which case his vote shall be registered according to the temporary or permanent address mentioned in the National Identity Card.”

However, a proviso attached to sub-section 4 reads: “Provided that this sub-section (4) including this proviso shall stand omitted on 31st December, 2018.”

Interpreting the proviso, an ECP official had told Dawn that it meant the persons registered as voters at an address other than the ones mentioned on their CNICs had less than a month to decide where they wanted to be registered. Otherwise, he said, they would be enrolled as voters at their permanent or temporary addresses by the ECP.

The official had conceded that the controversial move would open a floodgate of litigation, but insisted that the ECP had no option.

The JI bill now desires that only sub-section 4 be kept under Section 27, and it seeks the omission of the proviso saying sub-section 4 will stand nullified on December 31.

The aim of the proposed amendments is to "save hundreds of thousands of people from a futile exercise under which the elderly, women and youngsters will have to go through the process of getting their votes registered afresh or have their addresses changed in their CNICs", reads the proposed legislation.

If the provision is allowed to go ahead, scores of people would either have to get their votes transferred or risk being deprived of exercising their right to franchise, it says.

"Therefore, we desire for the parliament to approve our amendment to get prevent this people-unfriendly step," the bill reads.

According to the ECP, the district election commissioners (DECs) after the Dec 31 deadline will prepare lists of such voters in their respective areas and send notices to them following which they will be registered as voters at the permanent or temporary addresses as mentioned on their CNICs.

As per a public notice issued by the commission, citizens can find out their vote registration details by sending their CNIC number in a text message to 8300.

In order to align their votes with the address mentioned on their CNIC, voters must fill a Form 21, which is available on the ECP website and at DEC offices, and submit it along with a copy of their CNIC at the concerned DEC office.