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EC gets judicial officers for election duty

November 18, 2012

— File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission has finally succeeded in its attempts to get the assistance of judicial officers during the upcoming elections, with the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) agreeing to a one-time lifting of the bar on judiciary’s involvement in election process.

The committee held a special meeting on Saturday with Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in the chair.

In a significant move, the committee decided to provide services  of an adequate number of judicial officers to the EC for their  appointment as district returning officers and returning officers.

The committee observed that since the administration of  justice was prime responsibility of the judiciary, judicial officers  appointed as returning officers should do their routine judicial work and perform election duties in extra hours in the morning and evening  so that litigants did not suffer.

The NJPMC, in its judicial policy of 2009, had decided to stop judicial officers from performing election duties as this had dragged  the judiciary into political controversies. But recently, the Election Commission had made a written request to get the assistance of  judicial officers for the 2013 general election.

A similar attempt made by the commission during the days of  Justice (retd) Hamid Ali Mirza was turned down.

In his introductory remarks, the chief justice said in the past,  involvement of judiciary in election process had adversely affected judicial work. Therefore, at the time of framing the National Judicial Policy, it was decided to keep the judiciary away from election process and  focus all energies and time on administration of justice.

The meeting was attended by Justice Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan,  the chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court, Justice Mushir Alam, the chief justice of the Sindh High Court, Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, the chief justice of the Peshawar High Court, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman, the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, and the secretaries of the EC and the NJPMC.

Ishtiak Ahmed Khan, the commission’s secretary, briefed the  committee about steps taken by the commission to conduct the elections in a transparent manner.

To enhance the credibility of election process, he said, services of employees of federal, provincial and autonomous bodies had been requisitioned for mix deployment.

He said a ban on display of arms and aerial firing would be imposed during election campaigns and polling process.

He said a comprehensive security plan had been chalked out to protect returning officers and other polling staff and voters during the election and till consolidation of results and it would be implemented with the help of police and armed and paramilitary forces.

He said they were considering the possibility of monitoring polling process through close circuit TV cameras in and around polling stations, particularly in sensitive areas.

The secretary said the commission had revised the nomination form and added in it disqualification clauses provided in the constitution. Urdu version (of the clauses) would be available to the candidates, he said.

After approval of the code of conduct for candidates and their supporters, he said, it would be published for information of general public. The committee recommended its translation and publication in local languages so that people might easily comprehend it.

 NGOs oppose judiciary’s role In a related development, an alliance of over 40 NGOs has said  the commission’s request to the judiciary to ‘supervise’ the  coming general election is contrary to the Constitution and  election laws.

The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) urged the NJPMC to honour its 2009 decision that judiciary would not get involved in election  process.

It said in a statement the constitution provided for executive officials to assist the commission in administering elections, adding that judiciary was a separate institution and not part of the executive.

It expressed the opinion that judiciary’s involvement in the election administration would require parliamentary endorsement.

The FAFEN urged the EC to retain its authority for managing election operations independently. It said the commission’s sharing constitutionally-defined responsibilities with judiciary created a conflict of interest for judiciary and undermined the credibility of the commission as well as judiciary.