ISLAMABAD, November 8, 2013: Calling upon the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold local government elections in phases, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has sought federal guidelines to provinces for the protection of electoral rights of voters and candidates.
Addressing a press conference here on Friday, FAFEN representatives said the proposed federal guidelines for the conduct of local government elections can become the base for all four provinces to amend their own electoral laws to bring necessary uniformity in the conduct of elections and protect citizens’ electoral rights.
FAFEN representatives said the best way forward to eliminate current impasse is to hold local elections in phases in numbers as determined appropriate to ease the administrative burden and ensure quality. The phases may be separated by maximum of a week. The first phase, in a low population districts where preparations can be made, may start on December 7, 2013 as expression of resolve of provinces to devolve power to local level. However, the quality of these elections should not be compromised and ECP must ensure that the electoral rights of voters and candidates are safeguarded.
This phased election model has successfully been implemented in two previous local elections in Pakistan and is being used in some other countries as well. FAFEN strongly demanded that the local government elections were also held in Islamabad Capital Territory, Cantonment Areas and in FATA.
Albeit the operational complexities, the federal government will have to make ideally constitutional or otherwise legal changes that are necessary to remove the confusion about the role of ECP vis-a-vis its functioning under provincial legislation and fully empower the provinces. Constitution under Article 140-A (2) holds the ECP responsible for Local Government while ECP being a federal body, according to constitution’s Article 222, acts on laws provided by the Parliament. In the absence of a clear legal guidance, the ECP is being required to function under laws devised by the provinces. Constitutionally, however, any ECP action may be subject to future legal challenges.
Terming the provincial legislations weak and confusing on particularly election-relates areas, FAFEN representatives said the Constitution mandated the ECP as the custodian of the electoral rights of citizens. It also believes the ECP should be authorized to make local government election rules and regulations to be implemented by all provinces.
FAFEN has proposed a framework legislation under Article 140-A (2) to provide such guidelines to provinces so that the provincial legislations adhere to the basic definitions and principles stated in the Constitution and subordinate legislations, such as the definition of a voter in Articles 51 and 106 and Section 6 (2) of the Electoral Rolls Act 1974.
FAFEN representatives acknowledged the role of higher judiciary for its persistent interest in establishing legislation on local government in line with Article 140-A of the Constitution, but also urged the judiciary to direct the federal government to immediately finalize necessary legislation in this regard.
The framework legislation, according to FAFEN, can ensure that the citizens’ basic electoral rights and processes including qualification of voters, eligibility of candidates, periodicity of elections, voting and counting processes, minimum quota for reserved seats for women, minorities, peasants and workers, criteria for reservation of seats, eligibility for candidates on reserved seats, responsibility for preparation of voter rolls, basic principles for delimitation, election complaints handling and election dispute mechanisms as defined in the Constitution and subordinate federal legislations are protected.
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