The needs of the republic


Start with the regulating the elections



For democracy to work, everyone must agree to the results of the elections. To achieve that objective in a democratic dispensation it is absolutely essential that the elections are held in a free, fair and transparent manner on regular basis. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in the country. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will be expressed in periodic genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held through secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”. As is evident the participation of the citizens of a state in the free and fair elections is one of the fundamental human rights. Its exercise ensures stability and progress as the government thus installed derives its authority from the will of the people.

The constitutions of all the democratic countries invariably recognise this right and stipulate constitutional mechanisms to hold free fair and transparent elections after regular intervals. In Pakistan also article 209 and 140-A of the constitution prescribe the setting up of a permanent election authority known as Election Commission of Pakistan(ECP) charged with the responsibility to hold free fair and transparent elections to the National, Provincial assemblies, Senate and the local bodies. Unfortunately elections in Pakistan have not been held regularly due to disruption in the civilian rule and whenever they have been held, they were marred by controversies and rigging. Elections held in 1977 were rejected by the opposition parties and the resultant agitation culminated in the imposition of a decade long military rule. The results of elections held in 2013 also were challenged though in the end their authenticity and legitimacy was established by the Judicial Commission. In the history of Pakistan only the elections held on 7 December 1970 were acknowledged as free and fair by almost all the stakeholders.

The reconstituted ECP as per 22nd constitutional amendment, under the stewardship of Justice (retired) Sardar Muhammad Raza is striving hard to make sure that the coming elections are held in a free fair and transparent manner so that the results are accepted ungrudgingly by all the political parties. In this regard, taking guidance from the observations of the judicial commission, election monitoring agencies and the electoral reforms committee of the parliament, it is working on a comprehensive plan to change the election culture in conformity with the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To express its resolve to ensure the holding of free, fair and transparent elections, the ECP has decided to observe 7th December as Voters Day in view of the fairness of the polls held on that day in 1970. As most of the irregularities and shortcoming occur due to lack of awareness among the voters about their rights, mode and procedures of the elections as well as lack of required training of election staff in regards to balloting and compilation of results, the ECP is contemplating to initiate a plan to provide information and contribute towards educating citizens about their obligations in regards to elections and democracy with the aim to make the electoral process more credible and accountable through their participation, which is a way forward to achieve the objective of maximising voter turnout in the coming elections and minimising the male and female gap in voting process and encouraging women and other underprivileged classes where they are prohibited to use their right to vote in a free and secure environment.

On Voters Day the ECP is going to organise ceremonies in Islamabad and the provincial capitals which would be graced by the President and Governors respectively. Public and private media (both print and electronic) would be engaged as a partner to spotlight the work that the ECP has undertaken besides educating the masses and publicising ECP messages. To make the public awareness programme more effective, the ECP has established 102 District Voters Education Committee at district level. These committees operating under District Election Commissioners would include staff of district governments, lawyers, media and notables of the area and the local CSOs. These committees besides educating the voters would also help the ECP to enhance its outreach to the voters directly. The arrangement will surely provide a platform for multiple stakeholders at the district level to share their views, plan and implement activities jointly, review progress and take corrective and preventive measures for promoting the cause of voter education.

To remove the possibility of procedural and administrative lapses by the election staff, the ECP has demanded lists of officers from the federal and provincial government for appointment of honest, efficient and trustworthy officers during the forthcoming general elections. Work on the development of manuals and handbooks for training of district retuning officers, returning officers and polling staff is also in progress.

The ECP currently is working on evolving a code of conduct for election in consultation with all the political parties and recently held a meeting with their representatives who have been asked to give their proposals and recommendations on the code prepared by the commission in the light of the experience gained during the last elections.

On the recommendation the of Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, the processes of Procurement of 400 Electronic Voting Machines and 300 Biometrics Verification Machines are in pipeline and these machines will be used in Pilot Projects in upcoming bye-elections after December 2016. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and Biometrics Verification Machines are two separate projects that deal with the automation of voter’s identification & authentication at the polling station and casting a vote using machines rather than traditional paper ballot and stamp. If these pilot projects are successful then the scale of testing will be enhanced gradually, as per International Best Practice and Standards.

Some of the other measures that have been taken and are being contemplated to be introduce to make the elections free, fair and transparent include: introduction of 8300 SMS service for the voters to check their names in the voter list, polling stations and serial numbers on the electoral roll and the electoral block; plan to review electoral list annually; introduction of polling station wise electronic Result Management System which will help the ROs to improve accuracy, efficiency and transparency of the result tabulation besides ensuring storage of all the scanned pages of forms XIV, XVI and XVII along with data stored into the database permanently for audit trail accountability purposes.

The foregoing measures by the ECP represent a great improvement on the way and how the previous elections have been held and hopefully would lead to the holding of free, fair and transparent elections, making the results acceptable to all the stakeholders ungrudgingly, strengthening democracy in the country.