ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who heads the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, said on Tuesday that work on 13 constitutional amendments was under way as part of the electoral reforms agenda.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the committee, he said agreement had been reached on the amendments in meetings of a sub-committee headed by legal expert and former law minister Zahid Hamid, and the drafting work had been taken up to save time.
Mr Hamid was present on the occasion.
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Mr Dar said there were some differences on other proposed amendments, particularly about direct elections for Senate and women’s seats. These will be sent to the main committee and its 34 members will report to the sub-committee after consultations with the leadership of their parties.
He said the sub-committee had completed review of the six major electoral laws — including the Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974, Electoral Rolls Act 1974, Political Parties Order 2002, Allocation of Symbols Order 2002, Election Commission Order 2002 and Representation of the People Act 1976.
The sub-committee has sought one month to complete the remaining work.
He said the parliamentary committee had referred the report of the inquiry commission on the 2013 general elections to the sub-committee to ensure that shortcomings of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) mentioned in the report were addressed, if they had not already been taken up.
At the request of the ECP, he said, the sub-committee had nominated two of its members, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry of the PML-N and Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, on a working group constituted by the commission to examine the feasibility of facilitating overseas Pakistanis to exercise their voting right without coming to the country.
He said the ECP had been directed to examine laws of other countries on limiting the number of seats for which a candidate might contest.
Giving details of the work undertaken by the committee so far, Mr Dar said proposals had been invited from civil society organisations, lawyers and general public. The committee has received 1,283 proposals spread over 4,000 pages from different quarters. An 11-member sub-committee headed by Zahid Hamid may be assigned to examine the proposals and make recommendations.
About major amendments proposed by the sub-committee, Mr Hamid said the six laws governing the electoral process were being merged into one unified law. Unified rules are being framed to be included in the election manual.
He said changes had been proposed in the eligibility criterion for the posts of chief election commissioner (CEC) and members of the commission to allow appointment of technocrats and serving and retired government officials of grade 22 as the CEC and members.
He said a proposed amendment would empower the ECP to take disciplinary action against polling staff, including police personnel, found to be indulging in wrongdoings during polling.
All officials performing election duties will be deemed to be under the control of the ECP which will be empowered to take action against those involved in any contravention of law.
Under another recommendation, Mr Hamid said, the ECP would be empowered to declare null and void any election in which less than 10 per cent women voters exercised their right to franchise.
He said proposals about adoption of latest technology had also been mentioned in the sub-committee’s terms of reference.
Members of the committee, he said, felt that a demonstration of electronic voting machines and biometric verification identification system given to them by the ECP had not been satisfactory.
He said the ECP would use 50 biometric verification machines to authenticate voters before giving ballot papers to them in the upcoming by-polls in NA-19 (Haripur) as a pilot project.
Replying a question, Mr Dar said the Council of Common Interests had approved a proposal for conduct of population census which was tentatively scheduled for March or April next year.
Answering another question, he indicated that the government would not support the move to de-seat 28 PTI members of the National Assembly.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2015