Since June 2014 Pakistani parliamentarians are working to finalize a comprehensive electoral reforms package. Thirty-three members multi-party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) presented its first report in May 2016 to reform the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and subsequently the 22nd Constitutional Amendment was passed in June 2016.
In July 2016 the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had its four new members through a bi-partisan parliamentary process after the passage of the 22nd Constitutional Amendment that had expanded the catchment area for its members beyond retired judges. Only the member from the Sindh is a retired civil servant, and the rest are the retired judges. Nevertheless the member from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa created history as Justice (R) Irshad Qaiser is the first female member of the ECP. It is an important step forward to engender the institutional sociology of the ECP.
In December 2016 the PCER presented its second tranche of proposed reforms before the parliament and citizen’s suggestions were solicited on the draft Election bill. This is the first parliament-led electoral reforms initiative that intend to unify 9 existing electoral laws. Five out of these nine laws were the legacy of military regimes that deliberately engineered and distorted nations’ electoral system. The Parliament gave 20 days to citizens to submit their suggestions and comments for further improvements. The Centre submitted its suggestions for further improvements in the area of political finance and equality of citizenship for minorities. The proposed electoral reforms package has attempted to address many issues but is conspicuously silent about the concerns of religious minorities. The legislators from the religious minorities had no representation in the 33-member PCER.
Finally in July 2017 the Election Act 2017 was passed. Following are the main features of the Election act-2017:
- Amalgamation of Eight Election Laws:
The Following 8 existing Laws relating to elections have been amalgamated in the Elections Bill, 2017:
- The Electoral Rolls Act, 1974 (Act No. XXI of 1974);
- The Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974 (Act No. XXXIV of 1974);
- The Senate (Election) Act, 1975 (Act No. LI of 1975);
- The Representation of the People Act, 1976 (Act No. LXXXV of 1976);
- The Election Commission order, 2002 (Chief Executive’s Order No. 1 of 2002);
- The Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 (Chief Executive’s Order No.7 of 2002);
- The Political Parties Order, 2002 (Chief Executive’s Order No. 18 of 2002); and
- The Allocation of Symbols Order;2002.
- Chapters of Elections Act, 2017:
The Elections Bill, 2017 has the following 15 Chapters (with 241 sections):
- Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)
- Delimitation of Constituencies
- Electoral Rolls
- Conduct of Elections to Assemblies
- Elections to Reserved Seats in the Assemblies
- Conduction of Elections to the Senate
- Election Expenses and Wealth Statements
- Election Disputes
- Offences, Penalties and Procedures
- Political Parties
- Allocation of Symbols
- Conduct of elections to the Local Government
- Caretaker Government
- Election Rules, 2017:
Election Rules have also been prepared by the ECP to Facilitate/expedite implementation of the new Act. Each Chapter in the Act will have a matching Chapter in the Rules.
- Major Reforms:
- Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP):
- The ECP has been greatly strengthened and has been made fully independent and autonomous:
- It has been empowered to issue specific directions for performance of its duties, which shall be enforced throughout Pakistan in the same manner as if these have been issued by a High Court.
- It will have full administrative powers to control transfer of election officials during elections and take disciplinary action against them for misconduct.
- The Commissioner will have full financial powers including power to create posts within its approved budgetary allocations. All expenditure of ECP will be charged upon the Federal Consolidated Fund within the meaning of Article 81 of Constitution.
- ECP has been empowered to make Rules without prior approval of the President or Government. Rules will be subject to prior publication, seeking suggestions etc. within 15 days of such publication.
- ECP shall prepare a comprehensive Action Plan six months before the elections specifying all legal and administrative measures that have been taken or are required to be taken.
- ECP has been authorized to redress complaints/grievances during various stages of the election process (other than challenge to the election itself under Article 225). Its decisions will be appealable to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
- ECP shall establish a transparent Results Management system for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results.
- ECP has been empowered to delegate its functions to its members and officers.
- ECP shall conduct training programs for election officials and take measures to promote public awareness regarding laws and best practices.
- ECP shall upload on its website list of constituencies, election results and decisions on complaints etc.
(a) ECP shall delimit constituencies after every census.
(b) Variation of population amongst constituencies in the same Assembly from the same province or territory has been restricted to 10%.
- Electoral Rolls:
(a) NADRA shall transmit relevant data of every CNIC issued by it to the ECP so that every citizen who obtains a CNIC from NADRA can automatically be enrolled as voter at his permanent or temporary address on the basis of his option in the application for issuance of CNIC.
(b) Registration of voter at an address other than the permanent or temporary address mentioned in his CNIC shall remain valid till he applies for transfer of vote or modification or renewal of CNIC.
(c) Hard and soft (in USB-PDF format) copies of Electoral Rolls (with photographs of voters) will be provided to all candidates on payment of costs; and it will be ensured that these are the same copies as available with the Returning Officer and Presiding Officers.
(d) ECP shall take special measures for registration of women, non-Muslims, persons with disabilities and transgender citizens as voters.
- Conduct of Elections:
(a) Election Officials:
- ECP shall appoint District Returning Officers, Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers at least sixty days prior to the issuance of the Election Programme of the general elections.
- All election officials shall make an oath before commencement of their duties that they shall act strictly in accordance with the Act, Rules and directions of the ECP.
(b) Polling Stations:
- As far as practicable, the distance between a polling station and the voters assigned to it shall not exceed one kilometer.
- List of polling stations/polling scheme shall be published at least thirty days before the polling day.
- ECP will be empowered to install surveillance cameras in highly sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring of activities in such polling stations.
(c) Nomination Papers:
- Nomination form has been simplified and the same Form has been prescribed for candidates for all seats.
- Nominations/candidature fees for the National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies and Senate shall be Rs. 30,000/-, Rs. 20,000/-, and Rs. 20,000/-, respectively.
- While scrutinizing a nomination paper, the Retuning Officer shall not ask any question which has no nexus to the information, supplied or received or objections raised by any person, or tangible material on record.
- In case of any default on payment of taxes, loans, utility expenses or other Government duties, a candidate may clear the default at the time of scrutiny of the nomination papers, except in the case of willful concealment.
(d) Ballot Papers:
- ECP will itself determine constituency-wise requirements of ballot papers based on the formula that number of ballot papers per polling station shall be equal to the number of voters at the polling station, rounded off to the next hundred.
- Persons with any physical disability holding CNIC with a logo for physical disability will be able to cast their votes through postal ballot.
(e) Counting and Compilation:
- Tendered votes will be counted by the Returning Officer. The material relating to tendered votes will be sent to NADRA for forensic inquiry to identify the impersonator so that consequential criminal proceedings can be initiated against him by the ECP.
- To make the counting process and tabulation/compilation of results more transparent:
- The Presiding Officer, senior-most Assistant Presiding Officer and representatives of the candidates shall sign the Result of the Count and Ballot Paper Account. In case anyone fails to sign, the Presiding Officer shall record a note to that effect.
- The Presiding Officer will provide a copy of the Result of the Count and Ballot Paper Account to the candidates, their representatives, and will send copies of these documents to the Returning Officer and to the authorized officer of ECP.
- The Returning Officer shall immediately prepare a provisional result of the constituency and will finally consolidate the result within three days from the polling day or within five days in case of recounting of votes.
- If the victory margin between the returned candidate and runner-up candidate is less than 5% of the total votes polled or 10,000 votes, whichever is less, the Returning Officer shall recount all the votes on the request of a contesting candidate before commencement of the consolidation of the results. [This will be in addition to the ECP’s power to order the Returning Officer to recount all the votes before the conclusion of consolidation proceedings, for reasons to be recorded.] If a candidate fails to avail recount option at this stage, he will be debarred from claiming this relief from the Tribunal.
- In case of equality of votes between two candidates, both will be declared returned candidates and each shall become Member for half of the term of the Assembly. The candidate who will be Member for the first half of the term will be determined by draw of lots. In case of equality of votes between three or more candidates, there shall be re-election in the constituency.
- The ECP shall notify the returned candidate within fourteen days of the polling day.
(f) EVMs, BVI and Overseas Voting:
- ECP may conduct pilot projects for utilization of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and biometric voters identification system in bye-elections in addition to the existing manual procedures for voter verification, casting and counting of votes to assess their technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility.
- The ECP may also undertake pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis.
(G) Election Documents:
- All election-related documents including Statements of Count and Ballot Paper Accounts, except the ballot papers, shall be public documents and may be inspected or copies thereof obtained.
- ECP shall retain election-related documents in tamper-evident sealed bags in storage space under its control at appropriate places.
- Election Expenses and Wealth Statement:
(a) Maximum limits of election expenses shall be Rupees four million for National Assembly, Rupees two million for Provincial Assembly, and Rupees one and half million for Senate elections.
(b) Election expenses shall be monitored by District Monitoring Teams of the ECP. ECP may impose fines in case of violation of the Act or the Rules.
(c) Return of election expenses shall be scrutinized by the ECP. In case of failure to file the return, the ECP may direct prosecution of the defaulting candidate for the offence of illegal practice.
(d) Every Member of an Assembly or Senate will be required to submit annual Wealth Statement in the same form as is submitted under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. In case of failure to file Wealth Statement, the ECP may suspend membership of the defaulting Member and if the default continues beyond 60 days, shall issue show cause notice for termination of his membership.
(e) The Commission shall scrutinize the Wealth Statement and in case it is found to be false, the Commission may direct prosecution of the Member for the offence of corrupt practice.
- Election Disputes:
(a) The election dispute resolution system has been made more expeditious and result-oriented by including provision for:
- Case management;
- Day-to-day trail;
- Mandatory costs for adjournments;
- Suspension of the Member for deliberate delay; and
- Decision within four months.
(b) A candidate may file an election petition directly with the Election Tribunal.
(c) The discretion of a Tribunal to declare a candidate other than the returned candidate as elected has been confined to his obtaining more votes or where voters have deliberately “thrown away” their votes in favour of the returned candidate fully knowing that he was not qualified or was disqualified from being elected.
(d) The Tribunal may order fresh polls in one or more polling stations.
- Offences, Penalties and Procedures:
(a) The Commission may direct summary trial of an electoral offence in accordance with the provisions of Chapter XX of the Cr. P.C.
(b) The Head of the District Police shall intimate progress of any investigation of an election offence to the ECP.
- Political Parties:
(a) To check mushroom growth of political parties, conditions for enlistment of a new political party with the ECP will include, in addition to existing requirements, minimum two thousand members and Rs. 200,000 enlistment fee.
(b) A political party shall submit to the ECP annual financial statement and list of donors who have donated Rs. 100,000/- and above to the political party.
- Allocation of Symbols:
(a) Symbols allocated to the political parties and candidates should be visibly different from each other.
(b) If an enlisted political party fails to comply with the provisions of the Act, it will be disentitled for allocation of symbol for the election.
- Local Governments:
(a) Constituency of a local government shall be delimited by the Delimitation Committee set up by the ECP for each district.
(b) Provisions of the Act relating to delimitation, appointment of election officials, preparation of list of polling stations, conduct of elections, election disputes, offences, penalties and procedures and allocation of symbols shall, as nearly as possible, apply to the conduct of local government elections.
- Caretaker Governments:
(a) Performance of functions by the Caretaker Government have been confined day-to-day, routine, non-controversial matters that are necessary to run the affairs of government.
(b) A Caretaker Government shall not take major policy decisions except on urgent matters.
(c) Members of a Caretaker Government shall also submit their Wealth Statement to ECP as required for Members of Parliament.
- Code of Conduct:
ECP may, in consultation with the political parties, issue a Code of Conduct for political parties, candidates and election/ polling agents. It may also issue Codes of Conduct for media, security personnel and election observers.
- Election Observers:
ECP may grant accreditation to domestic and international election observers, who will be required to submit reports of their observations/ suggestions to the ECP relating to the conduct of elections.
- Special Measures for Women:
Special Measures to encourage participation of women in the electoral process, including registration of women voters and actual voting on polling day, include:
- ECP shall conduct awareness/ media campaigns for registration of women voters, and their participation in elections.
- If the variation in the number of men and women voters in a constituency is more than 10 %, special measures will be taken by ECP to reduce such variation.
- The Presiding Officer will submit gender-segregated figures of voters in each polling station.
- If the turnout of women voters is less than 10% of the total votes polled in the constituency, ECP may presume that women have been restrained through an agreement from casting their votes and may declare polling at one or more polling stations, or election in the whole constituency, void.
- Political Parties shall encourage women membership and award at least 5% Party tickets to women candidates on general seats.