Electoral reforms bill tabled in NA

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 7 (APP): Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid
Monday tabled consolidated electoral reforms bill, entitled as “The
Election Bill, 2017”, in the National Assembly for approval.
The bill would ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the
country, Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid said while presenting
the bill in the House.
Giving highlights of the bill, Zahid Hamid said the Election
Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had been made fully independent and
autonomous, besides being empowered to issue specific directives
for performance of its duties, which would be enforced across the
country.
He said a number of initiatives had been suggested in the bill
regarding preparation of voters lists, delimitation, simplification
of nomination papers, installation of surveillance cameras, penalties
for violations, women voters turnout, powers of polling day
officials, expediting election disputes resolution, implementation of
the code of conduct and vote counting.
The minister said the Committee on Electoral Reforms, constituted
in 2014, had received some 1,200 proposals from almost all sections
of society, including non-governmental organizations, general public
and others, and 631 of them had been incorporated in the draft law.
Five notes of dissents on the bill were received from the
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI),
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), he said.
Zahid Hamid said the government was still ready to accommodate
opposition’s amendments in bill.
The committee, he said, had prepared The Election Bill-2017 with
an amalgamation of previous eight 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.
He said the bill had 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.
He said the ECP would have full administrative powers to control
and transfer of election officials during elections and take
disciplinary action against them for misconduct.
The Chief Election Commissioner would have full financial powers,
including powers to create posts within approved budgetary allocations,
he added.
The minister said the ECP was also being empowered to make rules
without prior approval of the President or the government. However,
such rules would be subject to prior publication, seeking suggestions
within 15 days of such publication, he added.
According to the draft bill, the 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 authorised to redress complaints and grievances
during various stages of the election process (other than challenge to
the election itself under Article 225), its decisions can be appealed 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.
The ECP shall delimit constituencies after every census and NADRA
(National Database Registration Authority) will transmit relevant data
of every CMG issued by it to the ECP so every citizen who obtains a
CN1C (Computerized National Identity Card) 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.
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 30 days before the polling day.
The ECP is also being empowered to install surveillance cameras at
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.
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 per cent 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.
In case of equality of votes between the two candidates, both will be declared returned candidates and each shall become member for half of the term of the Assembly.
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.
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.
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.
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 per cent, 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 per cent 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 per cent party tickets to women candidates on general seats.
Earlier, Chairman Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms Finance Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar presented the report of Electoral Reforms in the National Assembly.
The House allowed with majority vote not referring the bill to the relevant standing committee.