EC laid down healthy signs for transparent elections
The Elections Act 2017 empowers the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to proceed against the high ups who adversely affect the election process.
Sub-Section 3 of Section 55 of the Elections Act empowers the ECP to suspend or withdraw any election official, a public servant or any other person in the service of Pakistan for their negligence in conducting free and fair elections.
Article 260 of the Constitution defines service of Pakistan as any service, post or office in connection with the affairs of the federation or of a province and includes an all Pakistan service, service in the defence forces.
The Chief Election Commissioner and Commission under Section 55 can suspend even the Chief Secretary and the Inspector General of Punjab Police in connection with disappearance of the presiding officers since these authorities were directly responsible for holding fair elections as per Article 218.
It would set a precedent for future elections. Section 172 of the Elections Act explains the tampering with papers, it says a person is guilty of tempering with papers, if he … intentionally defaces or destroys any nomination paper, ballot paper or official mark on a ballot paper or intentionally takes out of the polling station any ballot paper other than the ballot paper he is authorized by law to put in.
It said that an election official on duty in connection with the election who is guilty of the offence under sub-Section shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months.
Moreover, Section 184 of the Act explains violation of official duty in connection with election.
The law proposed an election official or any other on duty in connection with an election who is guilty of an offence under Section 184 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.
The ECP had withheld the results after the polling, as presiding officers in the constituency had gone missing for over seven hours and top officials of the district administration and police were unavailable to help recover the allegedly abducted officers.
The recent round of by-elections has thrown up quite a few surprises. The Election Commission of Pakistan voided the recently held by-election in NA-75 Daska which was marred by deadly clashes between workers of the ruling party and PML-N, the mysterious disappearance of around 20 presiding officers and suspected tampering with results and ordered the re-polling in the entire constituency on March 18.
The short order read out by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja… the arguments heard and record perused.
From the perusal of available record produced by the parties, the Returning Officer as well as collected by the Commission through different sources, we have come to the conclusion that a conducive environment was not available for the candidates and voters of the constituency and the election in the subject constituency has not been conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in a transparent manner, incidents of murder, firing and injury, bad law and order situation in the subject constituency created harassment for voters and other circumstances leading to make the process of results doubtful unascertainable.
The order went on to say … the Commission in the exercise of powers under Article 218.3 of the Constitution read with Section 9 — 1 of the Elections Act 2017 declares the poll held on 19 Feb as void.
In a related development, the ECP summoned Chief Secretary and the Inspector General of Police Punjab to appear before it in person on 04 March to explain negligence in performing duties during the Daska by-election.
The Commission ordered transfer and posting of Commissioner of Gujranwala and Regional Police Officer Gujranwala Range outside the Division.
The ECP would either hold an inquiry against the officers itself or direct the federal or provincial government to do so. A final decision in this regard would be taken later.
The Commission ordered the Establishment Division to suspend Deputy Commissioner Sialkot, DPO Sialkot and AC Sialkot.
It also directed the Federal and Provincial Governments to suspend these officers.
—The writer is former Federal Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan and currently Chairman National Democratic Foundation.