ISLAMABAD, January 11, 2013: General Elections 2013 must be held within the constitutionally stipulated period under a caretaker setup that is acceptable to political parties inside and outside the Parliament, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) at a press briefing in Islamabad on January 11, 2013.
The caretaker setup at the federal and provincial levels must comprise neutral and non-partisan individuals, who are appointed after consultative process spearheaded by the parliamentary parties to include political parties that do not have representation in the Parliament.
FAFEN says free, fair, transparent and periodic elections are the constitutional rights of the citizens of Pakistan. It is the responsibility of the state to guarantee these rights in order to ensure political stability, economic growth, good governance and peace. Any effort to redefine the Constitution to delay the upcoming elections under pressure from political or no-political actors is detrimental to the very spirit of democracy in which elections provide an opportunity to citizens to hold their representatives accountable.
While the measures made by the Parliament to appoint an independent Election Commission and subsequent actions by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to improve the conduct of elections are acknowledged, they are not sufficient and may not guarantee significant improvement in the quality of the upcoming general elections. Although major reforms in the electoral framework just before elections is not recommended, though crucially important changes are necessary to ensure that an independent Election Commission comes up to the public expectations.
Based on the observation of 2008 General Elections and subsequent by-elections, FAFEN proposes a set of recommendations for improving the quality of General Elections 2013. These include:
1. Greater Authority to Election Commission of Pakistan
The exiting electoral laws do not provide ECP adequate powers to take full control of the electoral processes. It is, therefore, essential that ECP should be given:
- Complete authority to alter its organizational structure, electoral rules and regulations.
- Complete financial autonomy to the ECP.
- Complete authority to appoint District Returning Officers (DROs) and Returning Officers (ROs) from among all citizens with proven record of integrity and non-partisanship.
- Complete authority over seconded staff to direct, sanction and remove such staff while conducting elections on its behalf.
- Complete authority to suspend public functionary who fails to comply with ECP directives despite notice.
- Complete authority to the ECP or its appointed election officials to verify the documents, undertakings and affidavits that candidates submit at the time of the nomination. A clearly defined scrutiny procedure at the time of the nominations will minimize post-election disqualifications of assembly members and save time and resources of the electorate.
2. Disengage Judiciary from Election Administration
Article 220 of the 1973 Constitution only provides for the assistance of the executive in the conduct of elections. Similarly, Section 7 of the Representation of Peoples’ Act defines the qualification of the District Returning Officers and Returning Officers, which do not include judges. Therefore, involvement of judges in election administration is unconstitutional as well as illegal. Moreover, conduct of election is a massive administrative exercise and does not require judges to manage it.
3. Avoid Unnecessary Restrictions on Political Parties
Any restrictions beyond the scope of the Political Parties Order 2002 must be avoided. The ECP must ensure that the political parties have held inner-party elections and submitted their audited accounts as prerequisite for getting an election symbol.
Political Parties acquiring election symbol must also be required to declare their candidates at least for the post of Prime Minister and Chief Ministers, as such information is critical for voters to make informed choice.
Political Parties must also be required to make public their election manifestos at least 45 days before the elections. The manifestoes must be required to include implementation plans with deadlines, required resources and plans for funding.
Amendments are needed to the Political Parities Order 2002 to define the enlistment of Political Party Alliances and requirements for the grant of election symbols. Any political party that is otherwise ineligible to get an election symbol should not become part of an election alliance.
4. Enhance Participation of Women in Electoral Processes
Proactive efforts both by the Parliament and the ECP are essential to increase the participation of women in the electoral processes. Political Parties must ensure that they increase the number of women candidates for general seats and make the list of women reserved candidates public well before the elections.
The ECP must ensure that the existing almost 12 million gap of male and female voters on the Finalized Electoral Rolls 2012 is bridged to a minimum before the upcoming general elections. Most of the unregistered women are also not registered with NADRA. These women must be found and registered. This can be done through active collaboration among ECP, NADRA, political parties and civil society organizations.
Moreover, Parliament must pass legislation to:
- Void election results for any constituency where parties collude to bar women’s voting
- Count and report number of ballots in each women’s and men’s polling booth to ensure a true picture of gender disaggregated turnout data.
- Establish combined polling stations as it encourages higher turnout of female voters
5. Enforce Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates
The Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates must be protected under the Election Law. The enforcement of the Code must be ensured through appointment of Monitoring Committees, whose composition, functions and authority should be defined and protected under the Election Law. Violations of the Code must be addressed through the election process and penalties enhanced.
Moreover, the Complaint Handling Mechanism at the constituency level needs to be spelled out and publicized to enable citizens to have their election-related complaints redressed effectively and efficiently. This will enhance public trust in the election processes.
6. Delimitation of Constituencies
The delimitation of constituencies must only be conducted after the General Elections 2013. The issues of delimitation are not region-specific but nationwide. Any selective delimitation will, therefore, raise questions about the fairness of the process. One example to substantiate is the allocation of 12 seats to around 16 million voters in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and 14 seats to around 32 million voters in Balochistan. Such inconsistencies are common across provinces and regions across the country and must be fixed.
7. Ban on Using Religious Places for Campaign Activities
The ECP should ensure that mosques and other religious places are banned from engaging in election campaign activities. Similarly, public buildings, including premises of schools, colleges and universities should not be allowed to be used for campaign activities by any political party or the candidate.
8. Peaceful Elections
The Government and the ECP must ensure public security during all phases of elections. Security issues must be used to disadvantage political parties from campaigning. Military and paramilitary forces need to be deployed wherever appropriate. However, the security personnel should not be allowed to act independently and should adhere to the directions of the election officials.
Negotiations with Baloch people and political parties must be initiated to encourage and ensure their participation in elections. Such administrative and security measures that dissuade the electoral participation of alienated Baloch populace should be avoided.
9. Improve Counting Procedures
Legal and regulatory changes are required to:
- Declare as official the polling station wise results consolidated at the office of the Returning Officer and duly signed by the candidates or their agents.
- Report Vote Counts by Polling Station.
- Void vote count in any polling station with greater than 100% voter turnout or other clear anomalies. Verify the vote count in any polling station that has greater than 90 percent turnout.
- Automatic re-count at polling stations with a margin of less than 200 votes
- Publish polling station vote data immediately on web site for public scrutiny
10. Double and Establish Permanent Polling Stations
The ECP must increase the number of polling stations to bring them closer to people. While the ECP should not be transporting voters to polling stations on the Election Day, polling stations established for smaller number of voters will ensure their greater accessibility and reduce their reliance on candidates to provide them transport on the Election Day.
Moreover, the ECP should establish polling stations with full public consultations. Polling schemes must be finalized and available to all candidates on the day of the finalization of nominations.
11. Hold Concurrent Elections
FAFEN recommends election to the National and Provincial Assemblies on the same day in consideration of the effective resource utilization. Moreover, elections on same day will eliminate the chances of voters being prejudiced by the results of the National Assembly elections. It is in this view that the local government elections should also be planned after the general elections, within three months after the transfer of power to the new provincial governments.