PTI accuses govt of not taking electoral reforms seriously, calls for autonomy of ECP

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) on Thursday accused the PML-N government of not taking the electoral reforms seriously and demanded of the government to give complete financial and administrative autonomy to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

In a meeting of PTI's parliamentary committee, lawmaker Arif Alvi briefed the committee on the party's stance on the Election Act, 2017, which will be debated in the National Assembly.

The Election Act 2017 was tabled by Zahid Hamid on August 7 and calls for complete financial and administrative autonomy and independence of the ECP.

"We will not allow our carefully crafted electoral reform package to become an instrument of politicking for the ruling party," he said, adding that if the incumbent government was actually serious about electoral reforms as it claimed to be, it would have shown some commitment.

"We will attend the National Assembly session fully prepared [to oppose the bill] today, on the directives of our party chairman," he maintained.

PTI has also raised objections over the bill for not giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote, which has been a long standing demand of the party. However, since other political parties could not reach a consensus on the issue, no clause on overseas voting has been added to the bill.

Alvi has said that the electoral reform bill can only be passed unanimously, but the "ruling party is looking for majority support". He added that PTI is the strongest supporter of electoral reforms, however, "if the government tries to corner the party, it will protest both inside and outside the parliament."

PTI also insists that the caretaker government should be formed by a parliamentary committee that has equal representation of all parties.

The proposed legislation aims at giving ECP the authority to suspend or withdraw any election official, public servant or any other service person who attempts to, obstructs or prevents the conduct of fair and impartial polls, tries to or interferes with a voter when he casts his vote, attempts to or influences the polling staff or a voter or commits any other act meant to influence the result of an election or disobeys or avoids to carry out any instructions issued by the ECP.

However, the bill restricts the ECP from making any changes to nomination forms, which will be considered electoral law after submission. If the ECP wishes to make any changes, it will have to send a formal request to the Parliament for approval. It has also turned down ECP's request to be granted 15 days for candidates' scrutiny.

Election Act 2017

The bill provides for automatic enrolment as a voter of a person who has been issued a computerised national identity card on attaining the age of 18 years.

The candidates will get soft copies of the electoral rolls with photographs of the voters on them.

The polling staff will be appointed two months before the polls and will take the oath to work in accordance with the law and instructions of the ECP and can be subjected to legal action if they fail to comply with the rules.

The Act also restricts the amount of budget that candidates taking part in elections, can spend on their campaign and will get 28 days to campaign instead of 21.

The proposed law also demands that elected members of Parliament submit their wealth statement on a yearly basis. In case of failure to file an annual wealth statement, the ECP may suspend the membership of a legislator and if the default continues beyond 60 days, it will issue a show-cause notice for termination of the membership.

Members of caretaker government will also be required to declare their assets.

The bill also gives differently-abled people to cast their vote through postal service.

ECP will be bound to submit yearly reports of its progress to the government which will be presented in the Parliament and provincial assemblies.

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