FAFEN identifies legal inadequacies in elections amendment bill on EVMs, overseas voting

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Consensus must among stakeholders on electoral reforms for credibility of future elections

Zubair Qureshi

Any effort to amend the Elections Act 2017 without a larger political consensus is bound to question the legitimacy of future elections, and may cause political instability that can potentially reverse the process of democratic consolidation in Pakistan.

Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Saturday expressed concerns on the imbroglio between the government and the opposition parties as counter narrative of the democratic traditions and practices that had seen the treasury always ensuring a political consensus on particularly constitutional amendments and electoral reforms.

Despite political fragmentation, political parties had developed a consensus on electoral reforms in 2017 after three years of rigorous consultations under the aegis of a multi-party parliamentary committee, said the election watchdog in a statement adding the government must uphold such practices as a way forward on critical amendments to the election law, which are being proposed through Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021.

Both these bills have already been passed by the National Assembly without any debate on June 10, 2021.

Although the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2020 proposes major changes in the process of delimitation, voter registration, priority-listing of women candidates for reserved seats and political party regulations, the public discourse has only focused on the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and overseas voting proposed by Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021.

Both the bills merit an in-depth discussion among major political parties, whether or not represented in the incumbent parliament and provincial assemblies, for a broad-based consensus as they will have far-reaching consequences on the election system.

According to the FAFEN, the responsibility of achieving such a consensus rests with the federal government.

The government and political parties should not transfer the responsibility of making political decisions to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) through vague legislative decisions.

Dragging the ECP into such controversies will undermine the credibility of future elections and their outcomes.

The parliament should rather invest in strengthening the capacities of the Election Commission through definite legislative measures and appropriate financial resources.

Unnecessary criticism of the Election Commission for giving independent reviews/opinions under its constitutional mandate as provided under Article 218 (3) is tantamount to disrespecting the constitution, and falls within the ambit of Section 10 of the Elections Act, 2017.

Of particular concern is the government’s aggressive push for the introduction of EVMs and overseas voting without providing adequate legislation catering to the complex questions that are necessary to be addressed before the introduction of any technology at a national scale.

The proposed amendment allows the ECP to procure EVMs for casting of votes in general elections without detailed consideration of its legal, regulatory and administrative impacts, the statement said.

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