Electoral reforms crucial for credibility of next polls: Rabbani

Early implementation of draft bill urged after due amendments


Our Correspondent January 03, 2017
Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Tuesday said that electoral reforms before the 2018 elections were imperative.

He said this as parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle and civil society representatives urged Parliament to consider amendments to a draft of the Election Bill, 2017, and its timely implementation ahead of the 2018 general elections.

Speaking at a dialogue organised by Democracy Reporting International (DRI), Rabbani said that electoral reforms were crucial before the next general elections. He further added that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) needs to assert its role in managing and conducting elections.

Earlier Members of the civil society commended the efforts of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) on presenting a Draft Elections Bill, 2017, which is currently open for public comment till January 19, 2017.

Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, DRI Country Representative in Pakistan, emphasised that prompt passage of the Draft Elections Bill, 2017 is essential to allow sufficient time for its implementation. He also recognised the parliamentary panel’s initiatives of seeking input from the general public and key stakeholders, a  move which would enhance the transparency of the process.

Human rights activist IA Rehman, acknowledging reforms effort of the parliamentary committee, emphasised that the reforms should be enacted at the earliest. He added that further measures should be taken to give due representation to the minorities in Pakistan.

Free and Fair Election Network’s (FAFEN) Rashid Chaudhary said that despite efforts of the parliamentary panel, the new rules would require government approval under the draft bill, which may undermine the ECP’s independence and the credibility of elections in Pakistan.

Both Rehman and Chaudhary also stressed that the Parliament should ensure more transparent and inclusive committee sessions as well as greater public outreach so that citizens’ can offer their recommendations for the legislation.

Mirbahar also reiterated concerns over the restraints on ECP to issue rules and has to seek government approval for them. He added that by binding the ECP to seek such approvals could potentially compromise the impartial, independent and neutral role of the ECP. DRI also suggested reviewing the subjective candidacy criteria under article 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

DRI also urged that Parliament should consider measures to enhance and protect the political participation of minorities.

Other areas where participants highlighted the need for improvement included the absence of a limit on candidates running in multiple constituencies, lack of clarity on requirements for conditions to ensure secrecy of vote, and a continued deficiency of mandatory management checks on Returning Officers (ROs).

The organizer further emphasised that an enhanced results’ management system include measures that would facilitate timely release of results, and public dissemination of polling station-level data.

The Draft Elections Bill, 2017 also proposes some solutions to the long-standing issue of delimitation of constituencies. Since the last census was conducted in 1998, the review of delimitation has remained unaddressed for over a decade.

DRI noted that delimitations would be conducted on the basis of electoral rolls in the absence of census data.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2017.

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