Ishaq Dar: Work on 13 Constitutional Amendments Underway in Pakistan

Ishaq Dar, Finance Minister, who heads the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, confirmed that work on 13 different constitutional amendments is currently underway as per the electoral reforms agenda.

It was said by Mr. Dar that there have been difference on other proposed amendments, especially those relation to direct elections for Senate and women’s seats. These are to be sent to the main committee where its 34 members will report to the sub-committee after consultations with the leadership of their parties have taken place.

He said the sub-committee had completed review of the six major electoral laws — including the Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974, Electoral Rolls Act 1974, Political Parties Order 2002, Allocation of Symbols Order 2002, Election Commission Order 2002 and Representation of the People Act 1976. The remaining work is to be completed within a month.

Proposals have been invited from civil society organization, lawyers and from the general public. The committee has received 1,283 proposals distributed over 4,000 pages from assorted quarters. An 11-member sub-committee, headed by lawyer, Zahid Hamid, might be assigned to look closely at the proposals and form recommendations.

Major amendments proposed by the sub-committee, includes the six laws governing the electoral process, which are are to be merged into one unified law, according to Mr. Hamid. Unified rules are being framed to be included in the election manual. He also said that, changes had been proposed in the eligibility criterion for the posts of chief election commissioner (CEC) and members of the commission to allow appointment of technocrats and serving and retired government officials of grade 22 as the CEC and members. Furthermore, a proposed amendment would empower the ECP (Election Commission Pakistan) to take disciplinary action against polling staff, including police personnel, found to be indulging in wrongdoings during polling. Officials who perform election duties will be deemed to be under the control of the ECP which will be empowered to take action against those involved in any contravention of law.

Another recommendation stated that the ECP should be empowered enough to declare null and void, any election in which less than 10 per cent women voters exercised their right to franchise. Mr. Hamid states that, proposals to adopt the latest technology has been mentioned in the sub-committee’s TORs (terms of reference). Committee members felt that a demonstration of electronic voting machines and  and bio-metric verification identification system given to them by the ECP had not been satisfactory. However, Mr. Hamid said that the ECP would use 50 biometric verification machines to authenticate voters before giving ballot papers to them in the upcoming by-polls in NA-19 (Haripur) as a pilot project.

In addition, Mr. Dar said that the Council of Common Interests had approved a proposal for conduct of population census which was tentatively scheduled for March or April next year.  In addition, he indicated that the government would not support the move to de-seat 28 PTI members of the National Assembly.