ECP reforms


WEB DESK: The National Assembly passed the Twenty-second Amendment Bill, 2016, on Thursday changing qualifications and procedures for the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), commission members and some other measures aimed at addressing issues creating unsavoury electoral controversies.

The bill has been under discussion for quite some time in the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms with active participation of the PTI, vociferous critic of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Its unanimous passage raises the hope that the next elections will be largely free of allegations of fraud.

A consistent issue of contention being the demarcation of constituencies in favour of ruling party candidates or gerrymandering, delimitation of constituencies and preparation of electoral rolls for election to local governments are to be the responsibility of the Commission rather than the government. And to ensure continuity in the ECP’s working the bill provides that two of the four members from the provinces shall retire every two-and-a-half years.

For the first term, following the example of Senate, half of the members will retire after two-and-a-half years, and the commission will draw a lot to decide which of the two members are to retire first. Vacancy in the office of the commissioner or a member is to be filled within 45 days. The change that has attracted most attention for its desirability is in the appointment procedure as well as candidacy criterion for the office of CEC.

In case the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition fail to agree on the appointment, says the bill, both shall send their respective lists of names to a parliamentary committee for selection. In a much welcome break with the past practice, the position is to be open not just to a retired Supreme Court judge; a senior civil servant or a technocrat will also be illegible for the job.

These amendments are important indeed, but do not seem to go far enough. It is pertinent to recall here the example of Indian election commission, widely respected for conducting free and fair elections. Complete freedom from political interference allows the institution to act effectively and impartially. During election time, it enjoys unchallengeable authority to transfer bureaucrats suspected of favouring one or the other political party; and it even confirms the appointment of country’s army chief if it takes place during election time.

The chief election commissioner, a member of the civil service, is appointed for a six-year term, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier, and cannot be removed unless impeached by parliament. And hence is not susceptible to any political pressure.

Which is why, no one contests his decisions. In the case of Pakistan though the impeachment provision is there, but the incumbent can also be removed by the president or the Supreme Court. The president of course acts on the advice of the prime minister. This particular provision can easily compromise the commission’s independence. It is unclear why the PTI let it stay.

Source: Business Recorder