FAFEN asks for further review of draft Elections Bill, 2017

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 17 (APP): The Draft Elections Bill, 2017, represented a step forward, but still required critical improvements to ensure free, fair and transparent general election in 2018, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) stated here on Tuesday.
Appreciating the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms for circulating the draft bill for public feedback, the representatives of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) led by Mudassir Rizvi said in a press briefing that the draft bill still needed further changes.
He said the bill did not completely address the structural issues that pertain to the independence, autonomy and authority of the Election Commission.
“FAFEN calls on the Parliamentary Committee to consider a final set of recommendations before submitting the bill to Parliament for approval.”
The draft bill is the first unification of all election laws, which FAFEN has advocated since 2007.
The FAFEN members said the bill included significant proposed improvements that relate to protection of the authority of the Election Commission, promotion of women’s political and electoral participation and establishment of permanent polling places.
It also included systematic handling of election-related complaints and election result petitions, establishment of the right of election observation, as well as providing for legal clarity over the issues such as caretaker governments, local government elections, and declarations and disclosures required by political parties, legislators and candidates.
While the bill adequately addresses some important weaknesses of the election system, it still needed some more changes, they added.
They said perhaps most importantly, the proposed law did not go far enough in protecting the independence and authority of the Election Commission with regard to the promulgation of procedural rules to administer elections and disqualifying members who violate rules. The Commission also was not given full control over Returning Officers.
According to FAFEN, the draft bill included commendable provisions to promote and protect women’s electoral and political participation, including the power of the Election Commission to require a re-poll in polling stations or constituencies where women’s voter turnout was less than 10% of the polled votes.
Mudassir Rizvi said the mandatory requirement for political parties to award 5% of tickets on general seats to women, however, was cosmetic and should be increased to 17% at least.
The bill also required the Commission to take special measures to improve women’s voter registration nationwide and in specific constituencies where women’s under-registration was stark.
There was still an opportunity for the parliamentary committee to further improve the draft election bill, 2017, he added.