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ECP seeks major changes in legal framework governing electoral processes

Updated April 23, 2019

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The Election Commission of Pakistan has sought significant changes in the legal framework governing electoral processes in view of enormous challenges the ECP faced during the conduct of the 2018 general elections. — AFP/File
The Election Commission of Pakistan has sought significant changes in the legal framework governing electoral processes in view of enormous challenges the ECP faced during the conduct of the 2018 general elections. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan has sought significant changes in the legal framework governing electoral processes in view of enormous challenges the ECP faced during the conduct of the 2018 general elections.

A detailed post-election review report on the 2018 general elections was launched on Monday at a ceremony during which ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad also answered questions of reporters.

Other senior officials of the ECP were also present in the ceremony.

In the report, the ECP highlights achievements made and challenges faced by it during different stages of the election, including delimitation, revision of electoral rolls, appointment of polling staff, printing of ballot papers and introduction of new technology meant for swift transmission of election results.

The post-election review is part of the annual report for 2018.

The report describes as a foremost challenge the provision of inaccurate maps to delimitation committees by revenue departments. “Accuracy of maps was a pre-requisite for error free delimitation. In some cases, maps corresponded neither to revenue record nor the census record. Therefore, the Committee repeatedly returned maps to Revenue Departments / local administrations for necessary rectification,” the report reads.

Review report on 2018 general elections launched

It says the inconsistencies in revenue record also posed a challenge. There were some serious inconsistencies between revenue record and maps provided by the district administration. “For instance, in some cases the district administration for its convenience divided the area of a large patwar circle among two or more parts, without any notification,” it reads.

The ECP in its report has suggested amendment in Article 51 of the Constitution to provide that fresh delimitation be carried out not later than one year before the completion of the term of the respective assembly. It says the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) should prepare digitised maps showing details of locations and legends to avoid overlapping and chance of missing out any area. It says the provincial governments should provide maps strictly in accordance with the notified administrative units for delimitation exercises.

It asks the federal government to take immediate steps for official publication of census reports so that the delimitation for local government elections could be timely carried out.

In the chapter on electoral rolls, the ECP says the process was exceptionally challenging as the PBS provided the requisite data in December 2017 — six months after the expected timeline. It says the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) mentioned incomplete addresses in the national identity cards of citizens, which were reflected in electoral rolls, making it difficult for the verifying officials to locate such voters and even allocation of an appropriate census block code.

It says that non-issuance of NICs to women voters was the prime reason for the gap between male and female voters (over 12.5 million now). The federal government has been asked to issue direction to Nadra for increasing registration of women, persons with disabilities (PWDs), minorities and transgender persons by removing existing challenges and barriers. Directions may also be issued to authorities concerned to simplify processes for PWDs to obtain disability certificate and issuance of NIC with disability logo by Nadra. The federal government may direct Nadra to obtain accurate address of the applicant while filling of form for registration / issuance of NIC.

Sanctity and secrecy of voters

It has been proposed that sections 41 (2) and 79 (3) of the Elections Act may be omitted to preserve sanctity and secrecy of voters. Under these sections candidates and polling agents can obtain hard and searchable soft copy of the final electoral rolls with photographs of voters, including women.

The report recommends that Section 210 of the Elections Act, 2017 be amended to provide the opening of an exclusive account in the name of enlisted political parties and all transactions should be made from the same account and no party fund will be deposited in the account of an individual in any case.

It also suggests amendment in Section 202 of the Elections Act, 2017 to provide that the list of 2,000 members provided by political parties for enlistment shall consist of 20 per cent (400) women members. It also seeks amendment in Section 216 to set a cut-off date for allocation of election symbols to political parties.

“Necessary legislation may be made in the law providing for significant penalty on such political parties whose election symbols are withheld by the Commission for non-compliance of Section 208 (intra party elections) and 210 (submission of assets and liabilities with the Commission)”, the report suggests. It also seeks an amendment in the law to bar withdrawal of a party ticket awarded to a candidate on general seats after submission to the returning officer concerned.

Pointing out that appointment of separate returning officers for national and provincial assemblies created problems in finalisation of polling stations and appointment of polling staff, it recommends necessary amendment in the Act to provide for appointment of one RO for one National Assembly and its corresponding Provincial Assembly constituencies as per past practice. “In such case the number of AROs may be increased to facilitate the ROs”, it says.

The report recommends appointment of experienced officers as ROs and their exemption from their routine office work after issuance of election schedule till conclusion of results.

Observing that there was a general lack of interest and unwillingness for performing election duty; due to heavy administrative responsibility, hardships and the potential of political coercion against a meagre amount of financial benefit, it proposes that the electoral staff be assigned duties nearest to their residences with increased financial incentives.

Referring to the gigantic task of printing millions of ballot papers, it has been recommended that time for holding elections be extended from 60 to 90 days and printing of non-sensitive material be allowed from local open market as the printing capacity of government presses is insufficient.

“Section 71(4) of the Elections Act, 2017 may be appropriately amended to provide for “Paper with security feature” instead of “watermark paper” so that the paper with security feature may be manufactured within the country,” the report reads. It also suggests amendment in the Act to provide for name box in Form A for writing name of the candidate in Urdu as per NIC.

RTS controversy

The report finds a sketchy mention of the Result Transmission System (RTS) controversy that hit headlines soon after the electoral exercise was over and says RTS was 3G / 4G supported software which required availability of internet connectivity (3G / 4G) at 100 per cent polling stations. “Since 3G /4G density was available only at 60 per cent of areas of the country as per PTA, implementation of RTS at all the polling stations was a great challenge for the Commission”, it says.

Read: RTS controversy likely to haunt ECP, Nadra for a long time

It says arrangement of mobile devices for use in RTS across the country at more than 85,000 polling stations was a great challenge which involved huge public money. “Training on RTS to presiding officers and Sr. APOs, being non-tech savvy due to generation gap, was also a challenge”, it reads.

The report recommends that introduction of new technology should not be mandatory under the law until it becomes foolproof and practicable in the field.

Answering a question, the ECP secretary said no petition on the alleged expulsion of polling agents had been filed by any party.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019