The 18th and 20th constitutional amendments empowered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to be an independent institution with democratically appointed Chief Election Commissioner and permanent members from all the four federating units through a parliamentary process. These amendments also introduced the concept of ‘institutional powers’ for the Commission. It is a departure from the culture of handpicked commissions in the past that used to rig or fix the elections on behalf of the regime. Resultantly the ‘trust matrix’ vis-à-vis this institution of significant importance for Pakistani democracy has increased. Before the Qadri chaos in December-2012 it was unprecedented in our history that all shades of political opinion acknowledged this fact and reposed their confidence in the ECP. This certifies that the culture of designing and strengthening institutions via the Parliament after the 18th Amendment is yielding its dividend.
Even before these constitutional changes the ECP had embarked on a Five-year Strategic Plan (2010-2014) to drastically reform itself. Cooperation vectors of the Commission with other institutions like the civil registry National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) to prepare error-free computerized electoral rolls and communication vectors with major political parties, civil society organizations and the media have also improved. The current ECP is an open, engaging, transparent, assertive and proactive institution. The ECP has started making best use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as well. It consulted in a meaningful manner with the political parties before finalizing the Code of Conduct for Election 2013 and involved civil society in its work. For first time in the history of Pakistan the ECP declared and observed October 17 as a “National Voter’s Day” to mobilize eligible voters to register, raise understanding of electoral processes, and urge them to exercise their right to vote in future elections. In this way democratic civic education has become a permanent feature of the ECP work. One can claim with a degree of confidence that the working culture of the ECP is transforming for better. However, the real litmus test for the new ECP will be the confidence of all political competitors in the outcome of the Election-2013.
The institution and its mandate:
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) came into being on 23rd March, 1956. In the Constitution of 1956: Article 137 provided for the Election Commission comprising Chief Election Commissioner/Chairman of the Commission and such number of Election Commissioners as may be determined by the President. First Chief Election Commissioner was appointed on 25th June, 1956. The term of office of the Chief Election Commissioner was five years with upper age limit of 65 years.
The ECP was charged with duties of preparation of electoral rolls, their annual revision and organizing and conducting elections to Assemblies. The Constitution provided for election to National and Provincial assemblies on the basis of adult franchise. A separate institution ‘Delimitation Commission’ was also provided for delimitation of electoral constituencies.
In 1958, upon imposition of Martial Law the Commission ceased to exist. The Constitution of 1962, provided for election of members of the National and Provincial Assemblies through an electoral college consisting of 80,000 Basic Democracy Members. This time Chief Election Commissioner was to be appointed by the President of Pakistan for a term of three years. The Commission had two Members, one each from the West and the East Pakistan. In 1969, the Election Commission continued working on the basis of the “Provisional Constitution Order” and adult franchise was re-introduced. The 1973 Constitution provided for an Election Commission consisting of Chief Election Commissioner and two Members, who were to be the Judges of High Courts. The number of Members of the Election Commission was later raised to four. (www.ecp.gov.pk)
Changes brought by the 18th Amendment:
There are about fifteen articles in Part-VIII of the Constitution of Pakistan that deal with the Election Commission, electoral laws and conduct of elections. Out of these eleven had been amended through the 18th, 19th and the 20th amendments. The Second Schedule of the Constitution deals with the election of President and it has also been amended. There are at least nine other articles of the Constitution that have direct or indirect bearing on the elections. The 18th Amendment either substituted or amended all of these articles. These constitutional changes testify the democratic desire to improve the framework for the Election. Following are the major changes:
The Presidential discretion has been omitted in appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).
The Prime Minister shall in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, forward three names for appointment of the Commissioner and a member to a Parliamentary Committee for hearing and confirmation of any one person. In case of no consensus each one will send separate lists to the Parliamentary Committee for consideration.
Maximum 12 members (one third from the Senate, 50% Treasury and 50% Opposition parties. If the National Assembly is dissolved and a vacancy occurs the Committee will be comprised of the members from the Senate) Parliamentary Committee to be constituted by the Speaker.
Term to hold the office of the CEC or a member has been fixed as five-year. Earlier the term for the CEC was three year with a possibility of extension by a resolution of the National Assembly.
Excerpts from the work of Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms
Election related policy recommendation:
- Article 225: The Government may specify a period of 90 days for the Tribunal to complete the trial in the Representation of the People Act, 1976 and that a consequential penalty on the Parties be imposed for any delay.
- Article 247: It proposed that the Government should take immediate steps to implement the reforms announced by the President in respect of FATA, particularly, providing opportunities to the National Political Parties to organize their activities in that area.
Election related Notes of Reiteration by Political Parties
|Senator Haji Adeel and Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP)||
|Dr. Farooq Sattar, Haider Abbas Rizvi (MQM)||
|Prof. Khurshid Ahmad (JIP)
|Senator Wasim Sajjad-PML-Q||
It is pertinent to mention that the Parliament has yet to synchronize the corresponding legislation with the constitutional changes. On 19th December 2012 a bill was introduced in the National Assembly to realize this objective. But no tangible progress has been made on it.