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ISLAMABAD, July 6: A coalition of around two dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on Friday cautiously welcomed the directive of Election Commission ahead of by-election in Multan on the seat that fell vacant after disqualification of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, saying parliamentary approval was needed to strengthen the new measures.

Besides placing ban on wall-chalking, car rallies, establishment of camps close to the polling stations, the EC in the directive has put in place a mechanism involving a dedicated bank account for election expenses, specifying the date by which the accounts should be opened for the purpose and money not exceeding Rs1.5 million deposited in it.

“The latest directive by the Election Commission in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s recent judgment is a positive step in the right direction that reflects the election administrations commitment to ensure free and fair process for by-election in NA -151 (Multan-IV), says free and fair election network (Fafen)”.

It, however, noted that the new measures would only be strengthened and institutionalised with the parliamentary approval of some of the provisions, particularly relating to the election expenses, contained in the directive issued on June 27.

It endorses an effective role of election authorities in enforcing the election expenses through stringent measures. However, these measures should be whetted through parliamentary debate and approval. The constitution has established a delicate balance among various state institutions, which is essential for their independence and constitutional jurisdictions. “The legislation is the prerogative of neither the Supreme Court nor the EC”, it noted.

The Supreme Court in its judgment in the Workers Party Pakistan case has pointed out the same procedural irregularities as Fafen had been pointing out on the basis of its observation of general elections in 2008 and subsequent by-elections. Although the quality of elections has improved on various counts during the by-elections, institutional mechanisms have yet to be set in place by the EC to improve the enforcement of multi-faceted electoral regulations on a sustainable basis.

Fafen noted with concern that the EC was heavily relying on the Supreme Court directive to assert the exclusive powers vested in the commission under the constitution. “This is not only compromising the public image of the commission as an independent constitutional institution but raises questions about its competence. The EC does not have to rely on the Supreme Court directives to reinforce the legal provisions that fall within its exclusive jurisdiction. The EC should rather work to reinforce its competence and independence in the election year to sway greater public confidence.

It suggested that instead of ad hoc arrangements and relying on Court’s directives, the EC should finalise forthwith the electoral reforms package that has been under preparation since April 2008 and forward it to the government for legislation. This package enjoys the support of genuine electoral stakeholders such as political parties, civil society organisations and parliamentarians and includes sweeping reforms that will enhance EC’s autonomy and independence by addressing the core causes that undermines the quality of electoral processes.