FAFEN Concerned About the Change of Rules for the Presidential Election

ISLAMABAD – September 18, 1007: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) notes with concern the announcement by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of a change in the rules governing the election of the President that nullifies a constitutional provision. It is unclear whether the Election Commission initiated this change in the rules, which enables the incumbent President to run for office without the constitutionally required two-year waiting period after resigning from government service. The change in rules favoring the current President comes only days after the deportation of a former Prime Minister, despite a Supreme Court ruling allowing his return to the country.

Taken together, these developments in advance of the upcoming general elections raise concerns about the application of the rule of law and the “level playing field” for all political contestants. Legitimate general elections expressing the will of Pakistani voters depend upon enforcement of a clear legal and constitutional framework that does not change at the last minute.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must not only be neutral in the administration of elections, but must also appear to be neutral in the execution of its duties. The single most significant step the ECP could take in order to accomplish this essential goal is to be fully transparent in the course of performing its duties by hosting regular meetings with all political parties, with the media, and with civil society organizations involved in the election process.  Such meetings would help avoid misunderstandings, generate consensus on key issues, and enable the ECP to administer elections that Pakistan could be proud of.

Holding elections in an environment with a “level playing field” based on the rule of law would give voters encouragement about the impact of their vote and enable them to make meaningful choices about the political parties and candidates for whom they will be casting their ballots.  This democratic participation is what people of Pakistan need and deserve.

Meanwhile, recent political events have distracted attention away from other developments at the ECP that are equally important to the electoral process.  During the last month, the ECP has begun to add millions of unverifiable names to the new computerized voters’ list compiled this year.  FAFEN audited the new electoral roll nationwide in June 2007 — through an internationally recognized methodology based on statistically valid random sampling — and found that the 2007 electoral roll is highly accurate, though incomplete.  Adding names from the 2002 list without verifiable national identity cards, as the ECP is now apparently doing, could undermine the integrity of new voters’ list, for which billions of rupees have been invested.  Instead, FAFEN has advocated consistently to the ECP and the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the new list should be electronically compared to the NADRA database of CNIC holders in order to add as many as 16 million new voters to the electoral roll.  It is not too late to take this step.

About FAFEN: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) is a coalition of thirty leading Pakistani civil society organizations. It was established in 2006 to observe the election process, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform.