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Globalization of Media –MCM404 VU
© Copyright Virtual University of Pakistan 39
Lesson 11 THE ELECTION COMMISSION OF PAKISTAN Note: The text of this handout represents observations formulated on the basis of the direct experience of the lecturer in having been a candidate for election to the National Assembly of Pakistan in the general elections held in October 2002. While the observations and recommendations contained in this text have not appeared in book form as of 2005, they have been published in newspapers during 2002. The content of the lecture focussed on the constitutional, political and operational dimensions of the Election Commission. This handout presents a perspective from a participant in the actual electoral process. A new role for the Election Commission As attention shifts to the convening of Parliament and the formation of new governments, the need to learn from the experience of the electoral process gained in October 2002 becomes the greater. One curious source of credibility for the conduct and results of the recent elections emerges from the fact that virtually every political party and alliance which participated in the elections has described either the entire election as being rigged, or has complained against irregularities on a large- scale in particular constituencies. So, as a friend muses, if everyone says that the elections were rigged, then surely the elections were fair because they do not seem to have satisfied anyone fully! Not even the party labelled as the Government’s favourite. After all, its very own president was defeated not just in one, but in two constituencies, as also the defeat of one of the same party’s prime ministerial hopefuls in Shikarpur as well. The issue of whether the Election Commission was wholly or partially responsible for rigging before, during and after the polls requires to be dealt with separately. For the present, it is sufficient to note that since no contesting party appears to be satisfied with the results, the Election Commission has surely acted ⎯ in some important respects ⎯ as an independent, though not necessarily always, a competent manner. As this writer himself was a candidate from a Karachi constituency for a seat in the National Assembly and lost the election by a large margin, it may be tenable to allege the cause of my loss to fraud on a massive scale. But notwithstanding serious irregularities at several polling stations which certainly helped to substantially increase the tally in favour of the winner, I would like to record that at no point during the campaign or on polling day did one get the feeling that there was a secret conspiracy responsible for the way the votes went. Rather, the irregularities were due to the weaknesses of the election personnel, their vulnerability to local pressures, their lack of training, flaws in co-ordination and supervision and other such factors. Without these lapses, I would have still lost the election (for reasons stated separately), but probably by a smaller margin. More important than specific individual complaints, if the electoral process is to be made authentically representative of voters’ views, we need to cast the role of the Election Commission from an entirely new perspective. Instead of the present version of the Commission in which it operates like a part-time mechanism that becomes active only when a general election is announced, we need a full- time, full-fledged, fully-empowered institution. As a statutory body sanctified by the Constitution, the Election Commission certainly has permanence and does work round the year. Yet by the nature of its actual operations, its command of resources and by the image that it projects, the Commission remains a shadow of what it should really be: an immutable pillar of the State, immune from influence on any account and completely immersed in the fulfilment of a sacred trust. To bring about fundamental changes, four steps will need to be taken. First: the Chief Election Commissioner and the Members of the Commission should demonstrate the will and the strength to effectively use powers that the Constitution grants them. Article 220 of the Constitution states: “It shall be the dutyof all executive authorities in the Federation and in the Provinces to assist the (Chief Election) Commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions.” Far too often, the Commission is seen to be seeking the co-operation of the official system rather than directing docsity.com
Globalization of Media –MCM404 VU
© Copyright Virtual University of Pakistan 40
it to act according to its wishes. On far too few occasions does the Commission assert and fully use its powers. Since Article 215 clause-2 prevents the removal of the Chief Election Commissioner from office except through the manner described in Article 209 (through the Supreme Judicial Council), the Head of the Election Commission should have no inhibition whatsoever from using power to hold free and fair elections in a forceful and credible manner. Even the Head of State and the Head of Government would be ⎯ and are ⎯ subject to the directives of the CEC. The present Government, despite being an un-elected military regime has done more to strengthen the composition and independence of the Election Commission than perhaps any previous Government, including elected Governments. During 1999-2000, when this writer was associated with the Federal Cabinet as Adviser on National Affairs to the Chief Executive of Pakistan, one had the opportunity of visiting the Election Commission with General Pervez Musharraf to view a presentation on the problems that needed attention. Three reforms were immediately ordered. The Commission was no longer required to obtain clearance from the Establishment Division to upgrade or low-grade a position. It was also enabled to transfer funds from one head to another head under its pre-approved budget without needing to obtain prior approval for such a change from the Ministry of Finance. Similarly, there were to be no limits on expenditure that can be incurred by the CEC where, in his judgement, there is a need to exceed previously sanctioned sums. The EC's autonomy was thus made practical and purposeful. Then, during 2000-2001, for the first time, the Election Commission of Pakistan at the Federal level was authorized to conduct the local bodies elections in about 100 districts throughout the country to help establish a new system of devolved power at the grass-roots level. The discriminatory powers previously enjoyed by the Provincial Governments which controlled the Provincial Election Authorities were abolished. The Election Commission Order 2002 expanded the membership of the Commission from two members to four members to give each Province of the Federation equal representation in this important body under the Chairmanship of the Chief Election Commissioner. Clause-6 of the Order titled: “Powers of Election Commission” amplified and elaborated Article-220 of the Constitution and Clauses 9B and 9C further reinforced the Commission’s powers. The Election Commission should see its own role as a permanent “Government for Elections”, responsible for, and in command of, all resources and facilities that are relevant to its task throughout its tenure. When an election schedule is announced, it should also become a de facto Caretaker Government. The actual executive government should continue to hold charge of defence and national security, foreign affairs, economic and monetary management, and essential infrastructural sectors such as energy, telecommunication and mass-transportation. Other important functions of the State and the Government, particularly the Home Departments, the Police, law and order, services and general administration should be subject to the control of the Election Commission at the Centre and in the Provinces. Second: a comprehensive review and rectification of the voters’ lists used in the 10th October polls has to be undertaken on an emergency basis. Perhaps never before in our history have voters’ lists been so full of errors, omissions and flaws as were apparent in the present elections. The confusion witnessed in constituencies throughout the country at polling centres is unprecedented. Families living together at the same address for decades found themselves divided or deleted, with the husband needing to go to one centre while the wife had to go to another. If a brother was listed, his sister’s name was missing. And so on, and anon, the examples are too numerous to be ignored or downplayed. After enforcing accountability for horrendous mistakes, (NADRA?!) the Election Commission should take direct charge of re-compiling new voters’ lists, well in advance of the next election. These interim revised voters lists can be further updated close to the holding of the next general elections. But the process of review has to be under-taken now. Citizens and voters too share responsibility. The vast majority did not bother to respond to public notices published by the Election Commission in the Press and broadcast over the electronic media during the past several months urging voters to verify entries before finalization of the lists. Only a small number of citizens took the time and trouble to check their entries. Good citizenship alone can help ensure that the voters’ lists become accurate and remain updated.
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© Copyright Virtual University of Pakistan 41
Third: there is a need for a basic change in the manner by which officers and personnel are engaged by the Commission to serve as Returning Officers and Presiding Officers. The past and present practice is to appoint Additional and District Sessions Judges as Returning Officers while Presiding Officers and Polling Officers are also recruited for temporary duty from several public sector institutions ranging from bodies such as the Karachi Development Authority to the Employees’ Old- Age Benefits Institution. While judges may show required independence, short intensive training imparted to other officers does not automatically bring with it the values and ethics of impartiality and independence. Only a long-term association between an individual Presiding Officer and an institution like an independent Commission can engender within the officer the moral courage and spiritual strength to act without fear or favour. At the local level of the polling centre, where the sheer preponderance of a particular party’s members or the numerically large presence of a particular clan or tribe can create a coercive and intimidating environment, a part-time person yanked out of a completely different profession and job such as education and school teaching cannot suddenly become an impartial election official, impervious to immediate influence or threats. We need to develop a full-time cadre perhaps called the: “Election Service of Pakistan” (ESP) comprising officers who will specialize in the entire electoral process and develop the self-confidence and capacity to withstand pressures of various kinds. In addition to the conduct of local bodies elections and general elections, such an “Election Service of Pakistan” could also make available its services to hundreds of civil society organizations in the country that hold their elections on a regular basis, such as clubs, professional associations, trade bodies and sports bodies. A modest fee could be charged by the Commission to serve as a source of income for such services to civil society and the private sector. Fourth: the Election Commission should sponsor, with support from the corporate sector and if necessary, with Government aid or overseas donor aid, a year-round, continuous voter education campaign. Presently, such campaigns are only timed with compilation of voters’ lists and holding of elections. There are several other facets of the electoral process that require to be communicated widely on a regular basis. These include the duties as well as rights of voters, the fundamental right of women to use their vote and the obligation of male voters to ensure that their women are facilitated to cast their vote, the voting procedure, campaign rules and norms, modes of election to reserved seats, duties of political parties to maintain accounts, membership lists and other subjects. In the years ahead, with collective support from Parliament, the new Governments at the Centre and in the Provinces, from civil society and from independent media, the Election Commission can become an institution that embodies the highest standards of integrity and authority applied in the public interest.