available languages: english January 30, 2017

MPs and civil society at a DRI event in Islamabad recommended key amendments to the Draft Elections Bill 2017 and called for its swift adoption to allow time for changes to take effect before the 2018 general elections. A DRI paper launched at the event concludes that the Bill offers significant improvements to election transparency and efficiency in line with EU recommendations and international standards.

DRI analysis finds the Bill’s proposed Results Management System would facilitate the timely release of results and give the public access to polling station data, enabling election results to be crosschecked. The Bill also requires constituency boundaries to be drawn using electoral rolls where census data is over ten years old. As the last census took place in 1998, this would be an important step in safeguarding equality of the vote in 2018.  Furthermore, the Bill sets out a clear mandate for caretaker governments in National and Provincial Assembly elections, following allegations of partisan bias during the 2013 elections.

The draft Bill, presented by the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER), was opened to public consultation. However, civil society groups at the event asked for more transparent and inclusive Parliamentary Committee sessions and greater outreach to engage the public. Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) representative Rashid Chaudhary also warned that the impartiality of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could be compromised, as the Bill requires the Government to approve ECP election rules. Any doubt over the independence of the ECP could weaken public trust in the credibility of election outcomes.

Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, who chaired the event, said that the ECP must assert its role in managing and conducting elections. However, DRI welcomed the formalisation of roles for the ECP and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) in preparing and finalising electoral rolls. DRI’s paper also highlighted the development of the ECP’s complaints processand provision of postal ballots for people with disabilities as positive steps towards building public trust. Parliament should consider other measures to enhance and protect the political participation of minorities.

Another key challenge for Parliament is the proposed ban on High Court orders against the ECP, including preventing courts from questioning the validity of electoral rolls or constituency delimitation. Other areas for improvement include the lack of limits on the number of candidates in each constituency, little clarity on how to ensure secrecy of the vote, and a continued lack of mandatory management checks on Returning Officers.

Passing these reforms as soon as possible is critical to ensuring measures such as delimitation, electoral roll preparation, and the training of ECP staff on new legal provisions can be delivered in time for the 2018 elections.