Election Bill 2017 to ensure free, fair polls: Dar


Federal Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar on Wednesday said that a draft of the Election Bill 2017 had been prepared with complete consensus of all political parties which will ensure the transparency, freedom, and fairness of the elections to be held in 2018.

The draft gives complete administrative and financial powers to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and ensures registration of voters with the ECP automatically after the registration of new national identity cards and allows handicapped people to cast their votes through post.

It was tabled in the National Assembly on Tuesday by Finance Minister and Senator Ishaq Dar who is also Chairman of the Electoral Reforms Committee and is expected to be submitted in the upper house on Thursday.

Addressing the press briefing along with Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid and Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman here, Ishaq Dar said that a law regarding elections was being introduced after a gap of 40 years in order to make the electoral process more free, fair and transparent.

He said that the sub-committee which was formed in October 2014 had so far held 70 meetings and presented 1,283 proposals.

Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid said that the sub-committee’s recommendations consist of three parts including Draft Election Bill 2017, Draft Election Rules 2017, and Draft on Constitutional Amendments.

Discussing the constitutional amendments, the minister said that the sub-committee approved the amendments after reaching a consensus.

He said that the 22nd constitutional amendment is meant to only pertain to the appointments of the ECP chairman and members.

“The sub-committee forwarded the draft of 23rd constitutional amendment to the main committee which was presented before the National Assembly. It was also posted on the assembly’s website so that it could be finalised after receiving suggestions from Parliamentarians and the general public,” Hamid said.

He said that sub-committee had reviewed and examined suggestions received from the general public, observers from the European Union, and other organisations such as Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), UNDP, and Transparency International.

Dar said that the committee also examined reports and suggestions received from standing committees of the National Assembly and Senate.

The finance minister said that the committee members expressed reservations over one point regarding the suspension of elections in the constituencies where election results showed that less than 10 percent of the women had cast their vote, adding that it was only a draft which would be finalised after receiving suggestions.

He said that the final draft would be presented in the National Assembly after a consensus of all parties.

Ishaq Dar said that the committee had awarded many powers to the ECP and its directions/orders would be considered final.

He said that the committee had decided to empower ECP with financial autonomy according to Article 81 of the Constitution.

“The ECP can take actions on rigging allegations and formulate election cells to monitor the electoral process,” Dar said. “ECP staff would take oaths according to their Act and Rules for making the election process transparent.”

He said that a polling scheme would be announced before 30 days of polling, which cannot be changed, adding that close circuit television (CCTV) cameras would be also be installed at sensitive polling stations to avoid rigging.

He also mentioned that the committee had held meetings on the right to vote of overseas Pakistanis, biometric verification of votes, and voting through electronic voting machines but failed to get satisfactory results.

Ishaq Dar said that the committee empowered the ECP to use these technologies on an experimental basis in the upcoming elections.

Discussing the issue of election petitions, he said that the hearing of election petitions would be held on a day to day basis and election tribunals would be bound to announce the verdict over petitions in a specific time period.

He said that the ECP would set a code of conduct for elections and that it would be provided to media, election observers and all other organisations.

“The committee has asked the ECP to run special campaigns for the registration of women voters,” Dar added.

Zahid Hamid asked the political parties to ensure five per cent tickets to women candidates in the general elections.

Replying to a question, Ishaq Dar clarified the notification issued by the government to attach regulatory bodies with federal ministries.

He said that all the regulatory bodies were already attached with some ministries and rejected the notion that the regulatory bodies were regulating the ministries, saying that the regulatory bodies regulate only their own matters.

“Policy and administrative powers were already with the ministries,” Zahid Hamid said.