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Electoral reforms before polls sought

September 29, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Aug 28: Politicians, experts and journalists have strongly recommended reforming the election laws before general elections and suggested that mainstream political parties must agree on a minimum agenda of electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections in the country.

They were speaking during a discussion “Road to Elections” organised by Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCEP) on Tuesday.

Deputy convener of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Dr Farooq Sattar said that no system in the world is perfect. The democratic forces should try to develop consensus in bits and pieces, if they find it difficult to agree on reforms.

He demanded immediate formulation and passage of consequential electoral legislation on basis of 18th Constitution Amendment.

Dr Sattar noted there were certain impractical things in existing electoral code of conduct. He said it was unrealistic for the Election Commission to transport all the voters to the polling booths.

“Electoral legitimacy is under threat which is detrimental for the future of democracy (in Pakistan). We will support the independence of Election Commission. We want it to develop its own paraphernalia to decrease its dependence on the local executive authorities,” he added.

Leader of Awami National Party, MNA Bushra Gohar, said it was fashionable to criticise the political parties. She said generalising the conduct of the political parties should be avoided.

The ANP leader agreed that the existing code of conduct needs to be thoroughly discussed and amended with consensus among the stakeholders.

Senior Journalist Fahad Hussain said that since the political parties were not interested in reforming themselves, the Supreme Court had to intervene.

“The parties which cannot hold elections within their own ranks, how can we expect them to reform the political process,” he questioned. Aneeq Zafar, columnist, observed the electoral reforms should be an ongoing process.

“The political parties cannot make reforms overnight. Preparing and implementing code is rather easier than transforming the system,” he added.

Zafarullah Khan, executive director of the CCEP, said the Supreme Court announced its verdict on election campaign expenses and regulations on the petition of Worker’s Party which had never contested the general elections. He added 26 political parties were issued notices to respond before the court on that matter, but only eight submitted their replies.

He told the participants that total number of registered voters in NA-151 was 307,871. The candidates were legally allowed to spend a maximum of Rs1.5 million on the campaign. With this ratio the candidates could not spend more than Rs4.87 per voter.

“An ordinary letter cost Rs 8,” he said.

It was noted that central offices of the political parties in India were located on Akbar Road (New Delhi) and the government charges a token monthly rent of Rs1 to encourage healthy political activities.

The participants were shown a short report “Cracking the Code” that was a compilation of video-documented evidence of violation of election rules in the by-election.

Supporters of leading candidates were shown with automatic weapons, hosting party flags in and outside the polling booths. In one case a ballot box carrying a sticker of a candidate. The candidates also supplied food to the polling staff.