A parliamentary committee charged with proposing electoral reforms within three months has finally given its go-ahead to the Election Bill, 2017, after 33 long months. That too following a reminder by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that it required time to make necessary arrangements in the light of a new law. The need to finalise new electoral reform law has been obvious and urgent enough given that after the last general elections almost all parties had cried foul. The PTI had staged a protracted protest sit-in alleging large-scale rigging, leading to formation of a judicial commission by the apex court to investigate the matter. Although, the commission concluded that systemic rigging had not taken place, its findings recorded massive irregularities in the electoral process. Fool-proof measures must be adopted to stop irregularities distorting the public mandate. It may be recalled that in many instances wherein results were challenged in election tribunals it turned out that the ballot boxes were stuffed with fake ballot papers and the forms recording voter IDs and thumb impressions were either missing or contained multiple manipulative blunders. The culprits in all such malpractices have been influential candidates, and helped by conniving police and administration officials. The details of the proposed reforms are unavailable, though the Jamaat-i-Islami and the PTI are reported to have raised their respective objections to the draft bill. The JI has expressed reservations over the clause that calls for a minimum 10 percent women votes in any constituency for the result to be declared valid, which is almost sure to be shot down, as it must be, when the bill comes up for discussion before the two houses of Parliament. It has been standard practice in some parts of the country, especially in the Upper and Lower Dir areas, for all parties, including the mainstream ones, to prevent – as part of an understanding – women from exercising their right to vote in the name of tradition, which to say the least, is shameful. The PTI has more legitimate concerns in asking for electronic voting machines as well as voting right for overseas Pakistanis. Induction of electronic machines surely would be helpful to curb irregularities.
Equally if not more important is the need to free the ECP from governmental interference. To that end, there again is the tried and tested example of India, where during the election time the election commission has the authority to transfer administrative/police officials if they are found to be trying to influence the voters in any way. Consequently, no one in that country questions election results. It’s about time the ECP got a similar authority to allay the apprehensions of all players. An independent and empowered ECP is the only way to end the usual unsavoury controversies that characterize every election in this country.