The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has proposed wide-ranging legislative measures to translate the independence of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) into complete authority as a prerequisite for the quality of future elections in the country.
Based on the observation findings of General Election 2013, FAFEN has articulated key electoral reforms that are needed to remove structural and procedural barriers that affect the quality of elections.
As part of its recommendations, a series of legislative and procedural measures are proposed to ensure that the ECP, as an election administrator, has a complete control over the electoral processes, regulatory framework and resources.
One of the major reasons for the weak enforcement of electoral rules and procedures is the lack of ECP’s control over the executive assisting the electoral body in the conduct of elections. In addition, an undefined mechanism of accountability of erring officials appointed for various election duties only perpetuates the problem.
While legal measures are being proposed to enhance ECP’s control, the ECP needs to redefine the responsibilities of the District Election Commissioners to act as the District Returning Officers during elections. Evidence suggests that by-elections which are directly managed by the ECP officials are of better quality.
Another problem is the lack of authority of ECP, despite having a status of constitutional and independent body, over critical aspects of institutional autonomy. One key recommendation includes legislative changes to empower the ECP to have authority to approve rules and regulations on the conduct of election. Currently, the regulations are subject to the approval of the President, who under the Article 90 is the executive head of the Federation and therefore establishes the executive’s control over the ECP. Similarly, the Election Commission should also be empowered to alter its organizational structure and manage its own budget, given authority to approve the budget, maintain accounts, create posts, and authorize supplementary grants.
The ECP should be given authority to appoint election officials, including the District Returning Officers (DROs) and Returning Officers (ROs) with full powers over the seconded staff to direct, sanction and remove them for misconduct. Similarly, the serving judges of the superior and subordinate judiciary shall not be assigned the responsibilities as DROs and ROs as it can influence the election dispute settlements in the post-election phases.
The ECP needs to be empowered to exercise its constitutional authority over the government entities to ensure they do not get involved in electoral processes without specific direction from the ECP, and if found guilty, the ECP can suspend any public functionary who, during an election, fails to comply with its directives, despite notice. Moreover, the presiding officers should be given full authority over police and security forces in enforcing the rules at the polling stations to avert any interference in the voting.
The ECP should allow public access to its records, meetings and allow for public consultation in decision-making processes and issue regular reports to Parliament – annually and after each General Election – in order to ensure the transparency of the elections. Any decision made by the ECP or any of its designated official should not be subject to judicial review after the announcement of the election schedule and until the announcement of the official election results to minimize the judicial interference and subsequent delays in the electoral process.
One of the necessary measures that needs be taken is to regularize the terms of ECP members that should ideally be five years and their service, including removal, should be settled in the same manner as with the Chief Election Commissioner. Moreover, the responsibilities of the ECP and the Secretariat need to be clearly defined and delineated, minimizing the role of Commission in the day-to-day management.