Electoral reforms bill likely to be presented in current NA session

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 6 (APP): The much awaited “The Election Bill 2017”
aimed at further strengthening the Election Commission of Pakistan
(ECP) and ensuring credible polls, is likely to be presented in the
current session of the National Assembly.
The government had formed a parliamentary committee on electoral
reforms headed by Finance Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar in 2014, which
drafted the bill after deliberations for more than two years.
The electoral reforms bill had been finalised after 118 meetings,
25 of the main parliamentary committee and 93 of its sub-committee headed
by Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Some 631 proposals were received from
various political parties and citizens.
The Business Advisory Committee of the National Assembly, which
met on Tuesday last, decided that the draft electoral reforms bill
would be presented in the House during the current session.
The parliamentary committee has prepared the Election Bill-2017
with an amalgamation of previous eight different laws and proposing
new measures in different areas of electioneering to further empower
the ECP for holding free, fair and transparent elections in the
country.
A number of initiatives have been suggested in the new bill
regarding preparation of voters’ lists, delimitation, simplification
of nomination papers, installation of surveillance cameras, penalties
of violations, women voters turnout, powers of polling day officials, expediting election disputes, implementation of Code of Conduct and
vote counting.
As revealed in the main features of the Election Bill 2017, eight
election laws, including the Electoral Rolls Act: 1974 (Act No. XXI of 1974); the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974 (Act No. XIXIV 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, have been amalgamated.
The Elections Bill, 2017 will have 15 chapters (with 241 sections)
including Preliminary; Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP); Delimitation
of Constituencies; Electoral Rolls; Conduct of Elections to Assemblies;
Elections to Reserved Seats in the Assemblies; Conduct of Elections to the
Senate; Election Expenses and Wealth Statements; Election Disputes;
Offences, Penalties and Procedures; Parties; Allocation of symbols; Conduct of elections to the Local Governments; Caretaker Government; and Miscellaneous.
The ECP has been greatly strengthened and made fully independent and
autonomous. It has been empowered to issue specific directions for
performance of its duties, which shall be enforced throughout Pakistan.
It will have full administrative powers to control and transfer of election officials during elections and take disciplinary action against them for misconduct. The commissioner shall have full financial powers including powers to create posts within approved budgetary allocations. The ECP is also being empowered to make rules without prior approval of the President or the government as such rules will be subject to prior publication, seeking suggestions within 15 days of such publication.
Furthermore, 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. It is also being authorized to redress complaints and 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.
The ECP shall establish a transparent Results Management System for
expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results. It has been empowered to delegate its functions to its members and officers.
It shall conduct training programs for election officials and take
measures to promote public awareness regarding laws and best practices and
upload on its website list of constituencies, election results and decisions on complaints etc.
The ECP shall delimit constituencies after every census and NADRA will
transmit relevant data of every CMG issued by it to the ECP so every citizen
who obtains a CN1C 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.
Registration of voter at an address other than the permanent or
temporary address mentioned in his CMG shall remain valid till he applies
for transfer of vote or modification or renewal of CNIC.
Hard and soft (in USB-MF format) copies of Electoral Rolls (with
photographs of voters) will be provided to all candidates on payment ensuring that these are the same copies as available with the Returning Officer and Presiding Officers. The ECP shall take special measures for registration of women, non-Muslims, persons with disabilities and transgender citizens as voters.
The ECP shall appoint District Returning Officers, Returning Officers
and Assistant Returning Officers at least 60 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.
The proposed Bill provides, as far as practicable, distance between a
polling station and voters assigned to it, shall not exceed one kilometer and list of polling stations and polling scheme shall be published at least thirty days before the polling day.
ECP is also being empowered to install surveillance cameras in highly
sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring of activities in such polling stations.
Nomination Form has been simplified in the proposed law and the same
Form has been prescribed for candidates for all seats. Nominations or
candidature fees for the National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies and Senate
shall be Rs. 30,000; Rs. 20,000; and Rs. 20.000 respectively. Moreover, 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.
For ballot papers, the 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 will be able to cast their
votes through postal ballot.
For 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 impersonator
so the consequential criminal proceedings can be initiated against
him by the ECP.
To make the counting process and tabulation or 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. He 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.
The bill further states that ECP may conduct pilot projects
for utilization of electronic voting machines (EVIV1s) 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.
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.
In terms of election expenses, the proposed law provides that
maximum limit of election expenses shall be Rs four million for
National Assembly, Rs two million for Provincial Assembly and Rs one
and half million for Senate elections. 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.
Moreover, return of election expenses shall be scrutinized by
the ECP and in case of failure to file the return, the ECP may
direct prosecution of the defaulting candidate for the offence of
illegal practice. 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.
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.
For election disputes, the system has been made more
expeditious and result-oriented by including provisions like case
management; day-to-day trial; mandatory costs for adjournments;
suspension of the member for deliberate delay; and decision within
four months.
The bill proposes that a candidate may file an election
petition directly with the election Tribunal. 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 favor of the
returned candidate fully knowing that he was not qualified or was
disqualified from being elected. The Tribunal may order fresh polls
in one or more polling stations.
In case of offences, the Commission may direct summary trial
of an electoral offence in accordance with the provisions of Chapter
XX of the Cr PC. The Head of the District Police shall intimate
progress of any investigation of an election offence to the ECP.
To check mushroom growth of political parties, the Bill
provides that conditions for enlistment of a new political party
with the ECP will include, in addition to existing requirements,
minimum 2000 members and Rs. 200,000 enlistment fee. 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.
Moreover, symbols allocated to candidates and political
parties should be visibly different from each other. 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.
For local governments, the constituency of a local government
shall be delimited by the Delimitation Committee set up by the ECP
for each district. 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.
About Caretaker Governments, the Bill provides that
performance of functions by the caretaker government have been
confined to day-to-day: routine, non-controversial matters that are
necessary to run the affairs of government. A Caretaker Government
shall not take major policy decisions except on urgent matters.
Members of a Caretaker Government shall also submit their wealth
statement to ECP as required for Members of Parliament.
The ECP may, in consultation with political parties, issue a
Code of Conduct for political parties, candidates and election and
polling agents. It may also issue Codes of Conduct for media,
security personnel and election observers. ECP may grant
accreditation to domestic and international election observers, who
will be required to submit reports of their observations and
suggestions to the ECP relating to the conduct of elections.
The ECP shall take special measures to encourage participation
of women in the electoral process, including registration of women
voters and actual voting on polling day. The 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 percent,
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 percent 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 as void.
Political Parties shall encourage women membership and award
at least five percent party tickets to women candidates on general
seats.