ECP conveys concerns on poll bill to govt

Published June 20, 2021
A document sent to the government detailing reasons for objection finds 15 amendments repugnant to the Constitution and five inconsistent with the Act itself. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan
A document sent to the government detailing reasons for objection finds 15 amendments repugnant to the Constitution and five inconsistent with the Act itself. — Photo courtesy Radio Pakistan

• Raises objection on 45 out of 72 proposed changes
• Opposition accuses govt of planning to rig next elections

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has formally conveyed its concerns over the controversial Elections Act (Amendment) Bill recently bulldozed in the National Assembly amid the opposition’s outcry.

Informed sources said the commission had raised objection against 45 out of the total 72 proposed amendments in separate letters sent to the ministries of parliamentary affairs and law and justice.

A document sent to the government detailing reasons for objection finds 15 amendments repugnant to the Constitution and five inconsistent with the Act itself. A total of 17 amendments have been opposed by the commission on administrative grounds.

The ECP has supported 27 amendments as these were and another eight with amendments.

A document annexed with the letters, a copy of which is available with Dawn, reveals that amendment to section 17 and section 221 seeking “delimitation on the basis of voters instead of population”, is among the ones found to be in contravention of the constitutional provisions.

It points out that the amendment was in conflict with Article 51(5), which provided for allocation of seats on the basis of population.

“This impliedly requires delimitation on the basis of population,” the document reads.

Editorial: The ECP's reservations show that insufficient thought has gone into the electoral reforms bill

The proposed omission of 11 sections of Chapter-IV (Sections 24, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, and 44) relating to preparation and revision of electoral rolls has also been objected to finding this in conflict with Articles 219(a) and 222(c) of the Constitution.

“Article 219(a) requires periodical revision of electoral rolls. Article 222 guarantees that no law shall have the effect of taking away or abridging any of the powers of the Commissioner or the Election Commission,” it says.

“Omission of aforesaid sections will in fact take away the power of Commission of preparation and revision of electoral rolls and hand over the function to Nadra which will be against Article 222,” it asserts.

Likewise, a proposed amendment to section 25, which aims to empower Nadra to register a fresh NIC holder as voter, has also been opposed on the plea that registration of voters was an exclusive power of ECP under Article 219 of the Constitution.

The commission has also assailed the proposed amendment to section 43 empowering Nadra to remove the name of the deceased voter from electoral rolls on the similar ground.

Amendment to section 104(4) and (5) providing for submission of fresh list by parties in the event of vacancy has also been found to be flawed as Article 224(6) of the Constitution requires provision of additional names only after the previous party list has been exhausted.

The proposed amendment to section 122 seeking open ballot for Senate election is also in the list of amendments found to be inconsistent with the Constitution. It says a committee has already been constituted to propose a mechanism to implement the Supreme Court’s opinion on presidential reference No. 1 to this effect.

“The matter will be addressed once detailed opinion is issued,” it reads.

About amendment to section 202 seeking 10,000 members of each party instead of 2,000 for enlistment with the ECP, the commission notes that regional parties will find it impossible to increase their membership to proposed strength of 10,000 members.

The ECP has also opposed amendment to section 231 seeking to add an explanation to set scrutiny date as the critical or cut-off date for the purposes of assessing the qualifications or disqualifications, observing that it was in conflict with Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which provide pre-qualification of a candidate and post disqualification of a lawmaker.

“A statutory provision cannot regulate constitutional provisions,” it stresses.

The commission has also opposed amendment to section 9 to decrease the time for ECP to declare a poll void from 60 days to 30 days.

“Commission may order for inquiry if it deems fit and summon any record it need be which may require multiple adjournments. Decreased period of 30 days will practically render holding of inquiry impossible,” it notes.

Amendment to section 273 prescribing three years’ jail term for the delinquent official has been opposed on the ground that Section 188 of the Elections Act 2017 already provides for penalty of two-and-a-half years to the concerned official for offence under section 172(2).

“……two penalties for one offence cannot be provided and it is against Article 13 of the Constitution”.

An amendment to Section 17 binding the ECP to complete delimitation of constituencies at least four months before issuance of the election programme has also been opposed on the ground that extraordinary circumstances may occur as for GE-2018.

The ECP has also opposed the amendments seeking to provide for challenging delimitation before the Supreme Court, placement of details of polling staff on ECP website, appointment of polling staff from other constituencies, restricting ECP’s power to change polling station not later than 72 hours before election, increasing the number of election agents from one to five and provision of soft copy of electoral rolls on USB to the returning officer.

Informed sources say the letters sent out to the relevant ministries seek to bring the matter to the knowledge of Prime Minister Imran Khan so that remedial measures could be taken at the time of introduction of the bill in the Senate.

An official said a letter has also been written to Senate Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani, drawing his attention to the matter.

Opposition reaction

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman has voiced concern over growing mistrust between the parliament and the electoral body.

In a statement, she said the government must take seriously the objections raised by the ECP and the opposition.

She said the government’s amendments simply reflected its desire to win the 2023 elections. She regretted that while the National Assembly speaker says the opposition’s concerns will be addressed, the ministers and advisers keep on declaring that the law will not be withdrawn.

When contacted, PML-N senator Irfan Siddiqui said the PTI-led government had made the upcoming general elections controversial over two years before they were scheduled to take place.

He said the PML-N would oppose the bill in the Senate, which reflected a negative mindset. He said the key processes revolving around the elections starting from appointment of CEC and ECP members to forming caretaker governments required consensus.

He said it was for the first time that the entire opposition had been pushed aside by the government for what it called electoral reforms.

He alleged the PTI had rigged the 2018 polls and was now planning to steal 2023 elections through hasty introduction of insecure technology.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2021

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