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Pak EC must use its powers to strengthen accountability

Published : Aug 4, 2018, 1:44 am IST
Updated : Aug 4, 2018, 1:43 am IST

The ECP would do well to review such decisions by ROs to assess whether they have been made in line with the legal provisions.

In addition, Sections 4(3) and 8(c) give the ECP blanket powers to take any measure it considers necessary to ensure a free and fair election.
 In addition, Sections 4(3) and 8(c) give the ECP blanket powers to take any measure it considers necessary to ensure a free and fair election.

The controversy over the transparency of the vote counting process seems to have overshadowed the gains in terms of improvement in the quality of electoral processes that have been made in election 2018. Although the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ordered recounting in 25 national and provincial constituencies, it does not seem to have taken a proactive approach towards dealing with the post-election situation despite having greater powers under the Elections Act, 2017, to address post-election disputes and controversies.

The ECP appears to have kept itself insulated from any major controversy through the electoral process until the end of election day when claims by major political parties emerged that their polling agents were disallowed from sitting through the counting process and were not given copies of Form-45 (result of the count) as required by the law. The failure of the Result Transmission System (RTS), which led to delay in the publication of provisional results long beyond the legal 2 am deadline, compounded the fears of political parties that the election results were being manipulated.

The political crisis that now seems to be brewing and may spiral into another phase of public protest and outcry could have been managed better by the ECP.

While ECP leaders fully understand the scope of the powers they now enjoy, Pakistani citizens must also know what the ECP can do to address the currently evolving political situation, which has the potential to delegitimise an otherwise well-managed electoral process.

Let’s take Section 9 of the Elections Act, 2017. The provision fully empowers the ECP to declare an election null and void if it is satisfied “from facts apparent on the face of the record and after such inquiry as it may deem necessary” that “grave illegalities” or violations of the law or rules “have materially affected the result of the poll at one or more polling stations or in the whole constituency”. The ECP has the power to order re-polling at the polling stations concerned.

Many of the parties’ claims could potentially be verified through CCTV footage, as these cameras were installed at almost a quarter of the polling stations.

Another challenge for the ECP is that there are at least 170 national and provincial Assembly constituencies where the margin of victory is less than the number of ballots excluded from the count at the polling station level, which are later reviewed by returning officers (ROs) during the consolidation proceedings and either rejected or counted, if excluded wrongly by presiding officers.

Reports suggest many ROs did not entertain requests from various candidates for vote recount under Section 95(5), which requires a recount of one or more polling stations “when the margin of victory is less than five per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency or 10,000 votes, whichever is less”.

The ECP would do well to review such decisions by ROs to assess whether they have been made in line with the legal provisions.

In addition, Sections 4(3) and 8(c) give the ECP blanket powers to take any measure it considers necessary to ensure a free and fair election. An audit of rejected ballots may also be timely as it would inform the commission of reasons for rejections as well as any patterns such as assistant presiding officers not signing and stamping the reverse side of ballots cast for a particular candidate.

The ECP must act as the custodian of the electoral process and therefore should ensure that all executive authorities, including armed forces, have performed their duties in line with provisions of the law. If officials are found to have done otherwise, the commission may punish them. This is exactly why the new law empowers the ECP in Section 55 to hold disciplinary proceedings against election officials, including security forces personnel, and penalise them directly without having to refer their cases to their parent department.

Unless the ECP uses its new powers to strengthen electoral accountability and address post-election controversies to the satisfaction of Pakistani citizens and political parties, the purpose of Pakistan’s first significant electoral reforms in nearly half a century will be severely compromised.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: election commission of pakistan