INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

December 11, 2014

CHALLENGES FOR CHIEF ELECTION COMMISSIONER

ELECTION

After an inordinate delay of 16 months, Pakistan has a new Chief Election Commissioner to head an organisation that had surrendered its autonomy to certain vested interests including the judiciary and some political forces. This appointment seen in the present scenario will not be a bed of roses. The accusations against ECP have come from all political parties. In fact Pakistan’s elections since 1977 have been overshadowed by pre and post poll rigging to produce results as desired by certain interested quarters. Sardar Reza Khan will have assert to restore the credibility and reputation of this institution for securing the future of democracy in Pakistan. A bold initiative is required from him in this regard to restore the independence and impartiality of ECP while initiating reforms that make all future elections credible.

The new CEC would do well to study the entire functioning of the commission and electoral process before he begins to take decisions. For this purpose he would need invaluable support from retired, competent, upright and experienced officials of ECP. Under the existing provisions as approved in Election Commission (Officers and Servants) Rules, 1989. [Article 221], the CEC has the power to reemploy retired officials in public interest. It would be interesting if the CEC uses his powers to objectively take into consideration the views of Mr. Kanwar Dilshad who is very vocal critic of malpractices in ECP and Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan who served in ECP during elections 2013 and one who claims to possess irrefutable evidence. Similarly, he could enlist many other officials of the lower cadres who have since retired and could be of assistance in public interest to unfold pre poll, electoral and post poll irregularities.

Within the internal functioning of the ECP, the CEC will also have to go through all documents pertaining to its correspondence with Ministry of Law and its offices, State Bank of Pakistan, National Accountability Bureau, Federal Board of Revenue, NADRA, FIA and other government organisations whose inputs are needed to ascertain eligibility of candidates for elections. It is being criticised that in elections 2013, the ECP was bypassed by the Returning Officers appointed by interested elements within the judiciary while determining the qualifications of the candidates for eligibility and that much incriminating information was set aside by these returning officers to benefit certain individuals. It is absolutely essential that the CEC review the eligibility once again and disqualify individuals who were ineligible. There is plenty of evidence floating on the surface about individuals now holding high offices, who were ineligible in the first instance. This inquiry outside the ambit of tribunals should form the basis of taking disciplinary action against ECP officials and returning officers guilty of willful violations.

The CEC also needs to evaluate Post Election Review Report 2013 and order an in/out house study to improve the functioning and transparency of ECP. The new Chief Election Commissioner should then exercise his powers to implement objective reforms including electronic voting if feasible.

Since it remains the responsibility of CEC to ensure completion and accuracy of electoral lists on yearly basis, he should insist on a general census prior to the next general elections. In this regard the Census Division, ECP and NADRA will have to work in tandem to ensure that every individual of the country is accounted for. NADRA will also have to link its software to Form B and records of births and burials to keep all records updated. Its software should automatically notify individuals turning 18 and delete those who have died. This entire exercise would in future reduce long queues outside its offices and the need of new census.

Election tribunals are appointed under the orders of CEC. He needs to establish oversight mechanisms that effectively deal with delays. The tribunals must act in public interest to assist petitioners in procedural matters rather than rejecting appeals on minor technicalities.

There are many question marks on the outsourcing of tasks by ECP. It is within the administrative powers of CEC to order an internal inquiry and ascertain the nature of crimes committed. CEC will have to ascertain if the rules and procedures were violated or not. This includes printing ballot papers and forms from unauthorised sources, using unauthorised labour and sources for numbering, substandard ink and stamps resulting in large percentage of voter rejection, forgery and pilferage.

A major challenge for the ECP is to adopt the electronic system of ballot in cooperation with NADRA. CEC must take note as to whether the Indian version of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) is already outdated. Pakistan needs to move to the leading edge of electronic voting and provide the world with a template on which accurate, economical and fool proof elections and surveys can be conducted in real time. The advances in smart screen tablets, thumb recognition and superimposition of thumb impressions on election symbols are simple and affordable. 3/4G technologies, firewalls and GPS provide readily available mediums of passing secure data into central servers in real time. Pakistani IT companies have already developed these concepts and employed them in reality. Their expertise can be used to develop a home grown solution to electronic voting.

While the parliament and politicians squabble and fight over the true nature of electoral reforms, the ECP within its ambit can lead the way immediately. Provided the ECP begins to function within the powers and space it already has and by adopting the aforesaid measures, much of Pakistan’s internal political unrest can be laid to rest. Additional legislation if needed can be obtained through the Parliament.

To achieve this end, much will depend on the willingness, resolve and dexterity of Justice (R) Sardar Reza Khan to take the bull by its horns and reclaim the space ceded timidly.

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