The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is racing against the clock for holding the next general election on time as The Election Bill 2016 – commonly known as electoral reforms bill – must be passed soon to enable the polls supervisory body to organise ‘historic elections’ in the country.
ECP Secretary Babar Yaqub Fateh Mohammad said this before the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Wednesday. The committee was reviewing the bill referred to it after being introduced in the Senate on August 25. The bill has already been passed by the National Assembly.
Before starting formal discussion on the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid requested the committee, chaired by Senator Murtaza Javed Abbasi, to consider passage of the bill as soon as possible and asked the ECP secretary to share its details with senators.
“As per the ECP’s plan of action, we have to issue a certificate of readiness for the general election, and that must be issued four months prior to the exact date [of polls],” the secretary said, adding that for holding elections in July 2018, the ECP must issue that certificate by March.
The secretary said there would be a total of 0.5 million polling stations across the country of which 30,000 would be new, and every polling station would be at a distance of one kilometer from the other.
“We will have to train about 0.1 people million for the elections, and if we want to meet the deadline then the bill must be passed as soon as possible,” he said, adding that printing of watermarked ballot papers and other relevant preparations would also be time consuming.
“The ECP is literally racing against the clock, and passage of the bill at the earliest will be helpful in holding the historic elections in the country,” he added.
Law Minister Hamid told the committee that a parliamentary committee comprising members of all the parliamentary parties had held about 93 meetings to deliberate upon the reforms in elections that were finalised in the shape of that bill with consensus. “I would also urge the committee not to come up with major amendments and to pass the bill on time,” he added.
The committee discussed amendments, including those that are administrative and technical in nature, as well as replacement of certain words and phrases to make the intention and purpose of the sections clear.
It also discussed whether a column asking for education details should remain a part of the nomination papers, or whether a wealth statement form should be added in addition to the assets and liabilities form.
PTI’s Senator Azam Swati came up with over two dozen amendments but most of them were of trivial nature for omission and correction of clerical language in the bill.
The committee deliberated whether people with invalid or expired Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) be allowed to cast their vote and how to deal with a situation in which two candidates request the same electoral symbol.
The bill will be discussed again in the next meeting on September 11, four hours before the start of the Senate session, to consider remaining amendments proposed by the Senators. It was agreed that the process for considering amendments should be expedited so that the bill can be passed as early as possible.