Ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, the apex court on Friday granted legislation powers to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure transparent polls in the country.
The court also suggested executive authorities to make voting compulsory for a better democratic set-up in the country.
A three-member bench announced the verdict on a constitutional petition filed by Workers Party Pakistan (WPP) chief Abid Hasan Minto, who had challenged expense regulations of election campaigns.
In its 87-page judgment, the court ruled that in order to achieve the goal of fair and free elections, the ECP should prepare/revise electoral rolls immediately through credible and independent agencies.
“We direct the ECP to undertake door-to-door checking of voters’ lists and complete the process of updating/revision of the electoral rolls by engaging the Army and Frontier Corps to ensure transparency,” the bench stated in the verdict authored by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-Quaid, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Awami Party Pakistan had also presented their stances before the court. However, they remained unanimous for corrective measures suggested by Minto.
According to the court order, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Sayed appeared before the court on March 28, and claimed that immediately after taking oath, elected representatives file false returns of election expenses before the ECP.
The court directed the ECP to undertake monitoring of election expenses from the day the election is notified, adding that a candidate must account for all the expenses immediately after the election is over.
The ECP was also directed to compose a declaration form expressing details of a new bank account for a candidate, exclusively operated for the campaign.
The court also asked the ECP to hold meetings with candidates and apprise them of the relevant laws/rules; receive from them statements of expenses on a weekly basis by engaging election staff and carry out inspections at random in different places. It added that all transactions relating to election expenses should be made through GST registered firms/persons.
“To facilitate voters, the number of polling stations may be increased appropriately throughout the country so that the polling stations are not at a distance of more than two kilometres from the place of residence of voters,” the verdict added.
The court ruled that no candidates should be allowed to hire private transport on the election day. If arrangements for transport are made by the ECP, the routes should be widely advertised in print and electronic media.
“To ensure fair and transparent elections, if need be, instead of involving the employees of provincial governments, the employees of federal government/autonomous organisations/agencies, including the armed and para-armed forces may be instructed to carry out stipulated functions at the polling stations,” the judgment stated.
It further stated that the ECP is required to take corrective measures to ensure that election disputes are resolved at the earliest, adding that the ECP may also consider establishing a panel of lawyers well conversant with election laws at the expense of the state to provide free legal services to marginalised segments of society.
The judgment also stated that political parties will not be allowed to set up tents or camps near polling stations.
“The ECP is obliged to ensure that all elections witness a substantial participation of the electorate, therefore, all necessary steps must be taken to make voting compulsory in Pakistan as early as possible,” the verdict stated.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.