LAHORE, May 13: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has recommended a serious initiative to revamp the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), redefine its priorities and reduce bureaucrats’ meddling in political affairs.
The recommendations have been made in the HRCP’s preliminary report on Elections 2013 based on its monitoring of the electoral process before and on the polling day. The commission’s observers visited 57 National Assembly constituencies — eight in Balochistan, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 19 in Punjab and 17 in Sindh. A detailed report on its election observation project is under preparation.
In the preliminary report, the HRCP expressed satisfaction that doubts about the holding of elections proved wrong. It said that by marginalising enemies of the electoral process the people had again affirmed their faith in democracy.
It said the gap between male and female voters was too large to be accepted as right. Besides, the pattern of dividing votes on the basis of Block Code and Silsila was not properly understood by the polling staff and voters. It recommended that the legal obligation to review voters’ lists every year should be honoured and election staff and political parties should be imparted training in the use of new lists before elections.
The report deplored that fresh delimitation of constituencies was not carried out for the 2013 elections and urged the government to give priority to national census and delimit the constituencies before the next elections.
Criticising scrutiny of nomination papers of candidates on the basis of articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, it said the criteria should be discarded for being liable to subjective interpretation. It proposed that the articles be restored to their original shape.
The pre-poll environment was seriously marred by large-scale violence that denied a significant number of candidates and voters of a tension-free environment for campaigning, it observed. The authorities did not succeed in ensuring a level playing field to all parties and their voters.
It criticised the failure of the authorities to enrol members of the Ahmadiya community on the common voters’ list and called for their inclusion in the list. The HRCP noted that there were a number of complaints of voters facing coercion, particularly in several constituencies in Karachi. Referring to clashes between workers of political parties across the country, it advised the parties to seriously examine the issue.
It observed that the 2013 elections were the costliest in the country’s history and the expenses incurred by parties and candidates on publicity through electronic and print media crossed the limits of decency. Besides, candidates’ campaign speeches were often marred by personal attacks on their rivals and the use of intemperate language.
It recommended a serious effort to control election expenditures and adopt enforceable limits to campaign contents. It noted that women were again denied their right to vote at numerous places, such as Lower Dir, although at a few places they did cast votes for the first time. It criticised the ECP’s failure to effectively respond to reports that parties or candidates had entered into an agreement to keep women out of the electoral process.
The report suggested expeditious adoption of legislative and policy measures to ensure that women were not stopped from voting. It said the HRCP could not comprehend the reason for the unduly prolonged delay in announcing the results in several constituencies in Balochistan where candidates of nationalist parties were believed to be in a strong position. It asked the ECP to explain why it had taken so long to make the results public.
It said the May 11 elections had been rated by most of the HRCP observers as the most poorly managed affair. It seemed that returning officers selected polling stations without inspection of sites. It proposed a scheme of permanent polling stations, with possibilities of addition/deletion as warranted by circumstances. The way the polling process was disrupted in Karachi was quite a scandal, it noted. Polling did not start in a constituency because ballot papers could not be delivered to the polling staff. The ECP was apparently not in contact with the polling staff.
It recommended a system that enabled the ECP and its provincial offices to watch the progress of polling and quickly resolve any problem faced by polling staff. It asked whether the ECP had proved itself capable of the task of organising a free, fair and orderly election. It praised the commission for carrying a heavy workload but stressed the need for checking bureaucratic stranglehold over it.
By tending to concentrate on its own image building, it said, the ECP sometimes lost sight of major democratic issues.