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Electoral reforms bill tabled in National Assembly

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid 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 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.

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.

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.

Earlier, Chairman Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms Finance Minister Ishaq Dar presented the report of Electoral Reforms in the National Assembly.



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