Parties urge ECP to complete electoral reforms before elections

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Political parties on Friday urged the government and the Election Commission of Pakistan to speed up the process of electoral reforms in Pakistan well before the upcoming elections.
The demand was made at a public forum organised by PILDAT on the state of electoral reforms in Pakistan in which representatives of all major political parties like Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-Quaid, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf participated among other people.
A large number of participants, especially the parliamentarians, were deeply concerned about the quality of electoral rolls which many of them found to contain serious flaws when these were displayed for inviting public comments from March 1 to 21. The participants hoped that the flaws detected at the preliminary stage would be rectified before the final electoral rolls are released on 27th May.
It was demanded that the Election Commission should release the statistics relating to the number of objections received during the display period and the number of voters who approached the ECP via SMS or at the Display Centres for information about their votes during the display period. A concern was expressed about the lack of transparency on this count despite the fact that the display period concluded more than a month ago. A similar transparency was also demanded about the number of voters reached and the modifications made as a result of the door-to-door verification by the ECP earlier.
A number of participants also underlined the need to introduce reforms to effectively enforce the election expenses limits prescribed in the law. There was a general consensus that the transportation of voters to the polling stations on the polling day constituted a major chunk of the election expenses and therefore the number of polling stations should be substantially increased to facilitate easy access to the polling stations without motor vehicles. Some participants suggested that the number of polling stations may even be doubled or tripled, if necessary.
The forum expressed concern at the lack of clarity about the procedure of adding fresh names to the electoral rolls after the final electoral rolls are released on 27th May. The participants were unanimous in demanding that issuance of CNIC should automatically lead to the registration as a voter. It was suggested that the application forms for CNIC may be modified to collect applicant’s preference for the place of voting. The Forum also noted with concern that the Prime Minister did not initiate the process of appointing a new Chief Election Commissioner despite the fact that it was well known that the former CEC was to retire on 23rd March 2012. The Forum participants were also concerned that the Election Commission was currently working without a Secretary and an Additional Secretary during the crucial election year. Conducting the Citizens’ Forum, Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gillani suggested that all political parties should build consensus on electoral reforms and pass the necessary legislation at an early date.
Briefing the participants on the state of Electoral Reforms in Pakistan, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director-PILDAT said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has achieved an overall progress of 53 % on its 5-year Strategic Plan for electoral reforms as of March 31, 2012. In the previous quarter this progress was assessed by PILDAT to be 48 % as of 31 December 2011. The ECP had prepared and unveiled a Five-Year Strategic Plan 2010-2014 on May 25, 2010. Under the Plan, a total of 127 objectives are listed under 15 Strategic Goals with a deadline for achieving each objective. 4 objectives do not have a specific deadline as these relate to recurrent activities; 77 objectives were scheduled to be achieved by March 31, 2012. The remaining 46 objectives are scheduled to be achieved after March 31, 2012 – some as late as December 2014. PILDAT carries out a detailed monitoring of the progress on the implementation of the strategic plan and issues quarterly citizens’ reports to inform the public. Iqbal Qadari, Chairperson NA Sub Committee on Electoral Reforms said that all politicians wished that the electoral rolls must be in a good shape but, unfortunately, Election laws have difficulties and election process in our country has complexities which had retarded the process of reforms. He suggested that greater powers should be given to the Election Commission of Pakistan. He disclosed that It was being proposed by his sub-committee that on Union Council level number of births and death should be registered and ECP should be provided a continuous update on it so the Electoral Rolls can be updated regularly. He said that it was under consideration that Symbol allotment to the political parties should be given on the basis of a certain criteria and parties that have not secured at least two seats in provincial or national Assemblies should not be allotted an election symbol. He added that the Parliamentary Committee was considering that the election expenses should be controlled by disallowing posters, banners and hoardings. He, however, added that wall chalking was recommended to be allowed.