ISLAMABAD: Any effort to amend the 2017 electoral law without greater political consensus will question the legitimacy of future elections and could cause political instability that could reverse the process of democratic consolidation in Pakistan, according to Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in a press release published here on Saturday September 11, 2021.
FAFEN sees with concern the imbroglio between the government and the opposition parties as a counter-narrative of democratic traditions and practices which had seen the Treasury always ensure a political consensus on, in particular, constitutional amendments and electoral reforms.
Despite political fragmentation, political parties had developed a consensus on electoral reforms in 2017 after three years of rigorous consultations under the aegis of a multi-party parliamentary committee.
The government should maintain such practices as a way forward for critical amendments to the Election Law, which are proposed through the Election Bill (Amendment) 2020 and the Election Bill (Second Amendment). of 2021. These two bills have already been adopted by the National Council. Meeting without debate on June 10, 2021.
Although the Elections (Amendment) Bill of 2020 proposes major changes in the process of demarcation, voter registration, priority list of women candidates for reserved seats and regulation of political parties, the public discourse s ‘is only focused on the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVs) and out-of-country voting proposed by the Elections Bill (Second Amendment), 2021.
Both bills deserve an in-depth discussion between the main political parties, whether or not they are represented in the outgoing parliament and provincial assemblies, for a broad consensus as they will have far-reaching consequences on the electoral system.
The responsibility for achieving such a consensus rests with the federal government.
The government and political parties should not transfer the responsibility for making political decisions to the Pakistan Election Commission (ECP) through vague legislative decisions.
2017 Election Law: FAFEN urges government to refrain from making changes
Engaging the ECP in such controversies will undermine the credibility of future elections and their results. Rather, parliament should invest in building the capacity of the electoral commission through specific legislative measures and appropriate financial resources.
Unnecessary criticism of the Election Commission for giving independent reviews / opinions within the framework of its constitutional mandate as provided for in Article 218 (3) amounts to a lack of respect for the Constitution and falls under section 10 of the Election Law from 2017.
Of particular concern is the government’s aggressive pressure to introduce EVMs and out-of-country voting without providing adequate legislation to address the complex issues that must be addressed before any technology is introduced nationwide. The proposed amendment allows the ECP to procure EVMs to vote in general elections without detailed consideration of its legal, regulatory and administrative impacts.
The choice of the technology and the type of machines to be acquired was left to the ECP, but without specifying that the technology / machines to be acquired must fully comply with the existing provisions of the electoral law of 2017, namely voting and counting. process provided for in Articles 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89 and 90.
Any changes to these sections planned as a result of the introduction of VPDs should first be enacted into law.
The electoral law should not be changed to accommodate the limitations of the technology / machines to be purchased, and the voting and counting provisions contained in Articles 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89 and 90 do not should not be changed by changes either. in the rules.
Such legal changes can undermine parliamentary authority over legislation.
The proposed amendment is also not clear as to whether ECP can procure technology / machines that include a built-in voter authentication and verification function, as provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Election Law of 2021.
Such technologies / machines can compromise voter secrecy and the choice of a voter can be followed.
In addition, the role of GEV suppliers before the launch of any procurement process should be strictly prohibited.
Likewise, the proposed amendment requiring the PCE to allow overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote in their country of residence is also fraught with shortcomings.
The amendment reflects the intention of the government that a computer system can be developed with the help of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), but it did not make any corresponding changes to the law. electoral campaign that might be needed to potentially enable 9.5 million of overseas Pakistanis to vote.
The amendment fails to address critical issues such as the responsibility to determine the qualifications of foreign voters, especially Pakistani workers abroad, as provided for in Section 94 (2) of the 2017 Election Law; responsibility for their registration as voters and constituency assignment ie choice or permanent address on National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP); mechanism allowing ECP to enforce the legal requirement provided for in Articles 30 (complaints and objections) and Articles 37 (verification); mechanism for providing electoral lists to candidates as provided for in Article 41 (2), which only contains the addresses of voters where their vote is recorded, but in this case the voters will not reside at these addresses; campaign provisions and spending limits for candidates when they need to campaign abroad; verification and authentication of voters on polling day, in accordance with Article 84 (1); the time of the counting of votes abroad, whether during the preparation of the provisional results or during the consolidation procedure; voting time for overseas Pakistanis living in different time zones, especially if it was an advance / advance poll; processing of the list of voters from overseas – a list at the constituency level or crossed out at the level of the electoral lists provided at the polling stations as in the case of postal ballots; and the control exercised by candidates over the vote of Pakistanis living abroad.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021