THE 7th of December is declared as National Voter Day by the Election Commission of Pakistan. It’s the date when voting took place in 300 constituencies of National Assembly on general enfranchisement basis which came up with the first chamber of a Unicameral Parliament of Pakistan (7th December, 1970)
Article 219 of the Constitution, charges the Commission with the responsibility of holding general elections to the National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies and the local governments, preparing electoral rolls and revising them annually as well as conducting elections to the Senate and filling up the vacant seats in the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. Article 140-A also gives the ECP the responsibility of holding local government elections. Further, the Commission is also empowered to appoint Election Tribunals to adjudicate upon post-election disputes.
ECP take it as an obligation to make the process accessible to all eligible voters, so that the people of Pakistan can exercise their right to express their political will and elect their leaders. The electoral process is intricate and expansive, covering every aspect of elections, including civic and voter education, voter registration, Election Day processes, electoral dispute resolution and much more. Pakistan held its last General Election on 11 May 2013 after completion of five-year term of the government elected in 2008. The elections were politically and technically very challenging. These elections had the largest number of registered voters – 86,189,802 – including 37,597,415 women and 48,592,387 men. There were 10,958 contesting candidates, including 419 women. The number of election observers, both national and international, touched 50,000. Additionally, a very active electronic and print media closely watched these elections.
Aiming to further enhance voter participation in the next general elections, the ECP is engaging all stakeholders and take measures in this regard. Undoubtedly, voter engagement is a major challenge that the ECP will address through development of a comprehensive strategy, including introduction of electoral awareness in school/college curricula.
ECP has declared the 7th of December as the National Voters Day. Special programs are organized on this day. The main function is organized at presidency. The Honourable President of Pakistan would be the chief guest on the occasion. Similar activities are also planned in provinces at Governor Houses where the Governor of the respective province would be the chief guest of the NVD ceremony.
To fulfill its mandate The ECP is utilizing all its resources and built human and material capacity so that democracy is further strengthened through a more robust electoral reform process.
The Election Commission of Pakistan approved plan for annual revision of Electoral Rolls for the year 2016 in which all new national identity cards (NIC) holders were made part of the Electoral Rolls and all voters who have become disqualified (deaths/cancelled NICs) were excluded from the Rolls after their door-to-door verification followed by display process. The Voter count is expected to be increased from 93 million to 97-98 million after the said revision process.
Media as a partner is engaged to highlight ECP’s work as well as educate citizens on civic and voter education. This would include engaging public and private media including electronic channels and FM radio to publicize ECP messages.
ECP is also procuring the list of officers of federal and provincial governments for appointment of honest, efficient and trustworthy officers during the forthcoming General Election 2018. The work on developing of manuals and handbook for training of District Returning Officers, Returning Officer and polling staff have been started so that the quality of training could be ensured will before the election schedule.
The work on procurement of different essential items required in elections has also been started to ensure quality and timely procurement of election material.
The Gender and Disability Electoral Working is supporting the Election Commission of Pakistan at the national level in gender mainstreaming the electoral process. These member organizations will research; prepare proposals and support implementation of field activities at the grassroots level to increase electoral participation of women, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups across Pakistan. These Working Groups are also being established at the provincial level, and shall operate with a provincial focus.
The media training for the officers of ECP is part of ECP’s effort to train its officials to bring its collective experience at various levels before the nation through a very vibrant media and to to facilitate them to provide fair balance accurate and timely coverage of elections. Interpersonal Skills and Capacity Building Training Program for the officers of ECP is intended to make election experts out of each one of them.
The election commission of Pakistan formed 102 District Voters Education Committees at district level as an important instrument to achieve the goals of Civic and Voter Education Plan 2016 through various activities. These committees operate under the chairmanship of District Election Commissioners in each district of Pakistan. Other members included staff of provincial and district government departments, the local CSOs, lawyers, media personnel other nobles and dignitaries from the area etc. These committees will be responsible to lead the voter and civic education work in their respective districts. These will be instrumental in the success of the ECP endeavours to develop linkages for synergies, and expanding the ECP outreach to have more direct relationships with voters at the grassroots level. These committees will primarily aim at orchestrating state and non-state stakeholders and resources to achieve the targets set under the approved voter and civic education plan, providing a forum at the district level where multiple stakeholders get an opportunity to share their views, plan and implement activities jointly, review the progress and take corrective and preventive actions for furthering the cause of voter education.
The ECP is also making efficient use of technology to make elections process swift and sound. Locations of polling stations are to be added to google maps and have started a training program for result management The Polling station wise Result Management System (RMS) has been specially designed for upcoming General Elections to improve the accuracy, efficiency and transparency of the result tabulation process. RMS is being used by the Returning Officer (RO) in pilot projects during Bye-Elections at the time of preparing ‘unofficial results’ and for consolidation of election results. Geographical Information System (GIS) based Polling Stations is the facility by using which voters’ can see their Polling Station exact location on Google Map before the Poll Day using ECP’s official website. Multiple Pilot Projects were conducted in Phase-I that encompass 9248 Polling Stations of Provincial Capitals (Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar) found successful and very beneficial for general public and ECP officials for sake of transparency and accuracy. Now ECP has initiated Phase-II drive to cover all the remaining Polling Stations of the Country. This gigantic exercise of gathering Geo Tagging co-ordinates is being carried out by the ECP with the assistance of respective Provincial Governments and the UNDP.
The ECP had proudly launched Award winning World’s First Voters SMS (8300) facility February 2012. Since then we have received about 100 Million hits. By using 8300 SMS technology, voter can send his/her 13 digit CNIC at 8300 SMS short code using mobile phone and in reply s/he can get voting information (CNIC, name and number of polling station, tehsil, district, name and number of constituency, serial number in the electoral area block code, local council name and number). About 93 million plus voters can see voting details and this facility is available for 120 Million users nationwide. It is extremely reliable, secure, instant and speedy mobile voting service available 27/7/365 days.
On the desire of Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, the processes of Procurement of 400 Electronic Voting Machines and 300 Biometrics Verification Machines are in pipeline and these machines will be used in Pilot Projects in upcoming bye-elections after December 2016.
Hence through Civic And Voter Education plan ECP is working to achieve the major objectives of maximizing the voters turnout in elections, minimizing the male and female gap in voting process and encouraging women and other underprivileged classes where they are prohibited to use their right to vote in a free, fair and secure environment and to motivate urban well educated segments of the population living in posh areas of large cities to actively participate in electoral process.
—Writer is head of the Voter Education Programme and Public Relations Election Commission of Pakistan, Islamabad