June 14th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The National Assembly has passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020, which according to the federal government paves the way for wide-sweeping reforms in the country’s electoral system while the opposition accused the treasury of bulldozing legislation in the House.
The elections (amendment) bill was among 21 bills passed in the National Assembly on June 10. The elections (amendment) bill was introduced in the National Assembly on Oct 16, 2020 and it was passed by the standing committee concerned on June 8 amid the opposition’s protest.
According to Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, the government has repeatedly invited the opposition parties for a dialogue on the issue to evolve an electoral system which enjoys consensus of all stakeholders, but the opposition has refused to cooperate in this regard.
Speaking on the floor of the House, PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal also objected to the elections (amendment) bill, saying for the first time in the country’s history electoral reforms were being carried out without a national consensus.
What is the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020?
The elections (amendment) bill proposed 49 amendments in the election laws. The majorr changes proposed include more financial autonomy to the Election Commission of Pakistan; voting right for overseas Pakistanis and use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections.
Financial autonomy for ECP
The bill proposes greater financial autonomy to the Election Commission of Pakistan with amendemnet in Section 11(2) of the Election Acts 2017. According to Kanwar Dilshad, former secretary of election commission, the amendment will allow the commission to make development expenditure without approval from the Finance Ministry.
Delimitation on the basis of equal number of voters instead of population.
Through amendments in Section 17 and 20 in the Election Acts 2017, the bill proposes that delimitation of constituencies on the basis of an equal number of voters instead of population. Presently, the size of a national assembly constituency is worked out by dividing the country’s total elected seats in the National Assembly by total population, Dilshad said. Under the amendment, the size of the National Assembly will be worked out by total registered voters in the country, he explained.
The government through this amendment wanted to end anomalies in size of National Assembly constituencies as the population of some NA constituencies was comparatively very less than other constituencies in densely populated areas, he said. However, he said the country will become the first in the world to delimit constituencies on registered voters instead of population.
The variance in delimitation has been also reduced to five percent instead of 10 percent under existing laws.
Electoral rolls through NADRA
Through several amendments in the Elections Act 2017, the bill proposes to remove the role of the ECP in the registration of the electoral rolls. The preparation and registration of electoral rolls will be done through the National Database Registration Authority based on identification data of citizens. However, Dilshad said the ECP will retain the powers to endorse the electoral rolls prepared or registered by NADRA.
Appeal to Supreme Court on delimitation lists
The bill proposes the insertion of a new Section 21(5) that would allow any aggrieved person to directly appeal to the Supreme Court instead of a high court regarding objections on delimitation lists.
Polling staff from outside of a constituency
In order to lessen claims of rigging in elections, the bill proposes that appointment of polling staff should be done from amongst the ofﬁcers outside of a constituency.
Increase in nomination fee for NA/PA candidate.
The amendments in Section 61 proposes an increase in nomination fee from Rs30,000 to Rs50,000 for National Assembly candidates and from Rs20,000 to Rs30,000 for provincial assembly candidates.
60-day time limit for MPs to take oath
Through Insertion of a new Section 72A in the Elections Act, the bill proposes that if a returned candidate does not take within 60 days of the first sitting of the assembly, seat should be declared vacated.
Provision to challenge appointment of polling officers/staff within 15 days (Section 15)
In order to ensure fair and free polls, the bill proposes that the appointment of polling officers/staff can be challenged within 15 days of their appointment.
Five election agents for a polling station Section 76 (1)
Section 76 (1) of the Elections Act has been amended to allow a poll candidate to designate five election agents for a polling station instead of the currently one agent under the existing law.
Voting rights for overseas Pakistanis
Under Section 94, the bill proposes that the ECP shall with the assistance of NADRA and any other shall enable overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote during general electionsin their country of residence.
Electronic Voting Machines in elections
The election amendment bill amends section 103 to allow the ECP to procure Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for casting of votes in general elections.
10,000 members for a party’s enlistment
The bill proposes raising the number of required members from the current 2000 to 10,000 for a political party to enlist with the ECP. The amendment also lists that 20 percent of the required members should be women.
Annual convention by political parties
The bill inserts new Section 213A that would require all enlisted political parties to hold an annual convention of members. In the convention, the parties will list the 10 most pressing problems of the country and their solution discussed there and submit a report to the ECP.