ISLAMABAD, March 14: The Supreme Court upheld on Thursday the Election Commission of Pakistan’s right to get its new, biting nomination forms printed. Traditional politicians and major parties have severely criticised the changes made in the form as being too intrusive and too personal.
The court said the nomination paper was strictly in accordance with the law and the Constitution and there should be no objection to it.
In order to avoid delay in elections, the ECP decided on March 11 to go ahead with the printing of the forms which include the proposed amendments it had sent to the president for approval. The nomination papers seek details about aspiring candidates’ income and agricultural tax returns of the past three years, foreign travels, expenses of their children studying abroad, declaration of not having or applied for a foreign citizenship, etc.
The decision led to a friction between the ECP and the law ministry which insisted that without the president’s approval the proposed amendments could not become part of the nomination form.
But the commission was of the opinion that it was not changing any election rule but only improving the proforma which had been brought to the knowledge of all stakeholders, including voters and candidates, much before time.
“All the stakeholders, including over 80 million voters, candidates, parliamentarians and the nation, are unanimous on one point that their representatives should be honest and not polluted with allegations,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry observed while dictating an order after hearing a case relating to implementation of the court’s June 8, 2012, verdict calling for electoral reforms.
Heading a three-judge bench, the chief justice emphasised that the court would not allow a delay of even a day in elections, but noted that the government had certain objections to some of the sections in the nomination papers like the one in which information had been sought about criminal cases against a candidate over the past six months as well as about foreign visits.
Attorney General Irfan Qadir contended that an individual could not be held guilty of an offence unless declared so by a court of law. He asked why the ECP had sent the proposed amendments to the president for approval when the commission itself could have made changes in the Representation of People’s Act 1976 and other rules.
Referring to its June 8, 2012 verdict in the Workers Party case, the court emphasised that the ECP had a constitutional commitment and obligation to hold and organise elections in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Constitution. The ECP also enjoys the power as described in Article 222 of the Constitution which bars parliament from making any law which takes away or abridges any of the powers of the commission. This meant that in conducting the elections honestly, justly and fairly, corrupt practices had to be guarded against by the ECP, the court said.
It observed that when over 1,000 candidates would have to be elected, the people reserved the right to know about credentials of the candidates who would represent them for five years. Likewise, it said, the representatives were also supposed to provide all information to their electorates.
“We believe that the government also supports the holding of fair and impartial elections free from all corruption,” the court said.
The attorney general informed the court that the law ministry had examined the proposed amendments and a special committee had also been set up and the objections raised by it to the amendments had been sent back to the ECP. But so far no reply had been received from the commission, he added.
In all fairness, Mr Qadir explained, it would not be possible to legislate on the amendments sought by the ECP since the National Assembly was going to complete its five-year term on March 15. But if a need arose a temporary legislation could be made by promulgating an ordinance, he added.
In view of the importance of the issue, the court said, it had already held that the president was competent to issue an ordinance on which a legislation could be done later. Therefore there should not be any difficulty either on the part of the ECP or the competent authority (president), it emphasised.
The court, however, asked the ECP to submit its stand on the remaining amendments which it believed did not require legislation.
The case will be taken up on Friday.
About the grant of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, the court ordered the attorney general to seek instructions from the Ministry of Information Technology on the possibility of electronic voting.