It is not only beyond the mandate of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to dictate the presence of a blank column, or just as the ECP calls it ‘none of the above’ column, to signify that not a single candidate listed on the ballot papers of a particular constituency is acceptable to the voter, but it is also against plain common sense. If the special column is supposed to serve the purpose of ascertaining, as the ECP has given out, whether 51 percent of the electorate in the constituency does not wish any of the candidates to represent them in the legislative assembly, it could easily be calculated from the number of votes cast. If they happen to be less than 50 percent of the total numbers the intended result would be known. One might ask the ECP that in case none of the candidates appeals to a voter to be good enough to represent him, why at all should he bother about queuing up at the polling booth? In fact, there was no need for such an innovative practice that is hardly in vogue anywhere else in the world. Article 218(3) of the constitution that enjoins upon the ECP to hold free and fair elections reads: “It shall be the duty of the election commission to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.” We believe that the issue has not been thought through and suggest that the idea of making a reference to the caretaker Prime Minister to advise the President to issue an ordinance in order to give the concept legal cover should be dropped. Candidates have been complaining against returning officers asking uncalled for personal and religious questions.

The ECP that met under the chairmanship of Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin Ebrahim on Wednesday also discussed two important proposals: satellite surveillance of sensitive polling stations to be done with the help of the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission; and computerised record of these stations to be maintained with the technical assistance of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). These ideas seem to be sound and both the Suparco and the PTA should extend full cooperation in the national exercise of holding elections. Nadra has developed software for voting by expatriates and soon consultations would take place to take the matter further. Besides, the ECP has decided to reopen the cases of 24 MPs who had fake degrees but, somehow, were filed. Out of the total number of 27 such MPs, three have passed away and the remaining 24 have been summoned to appear before the ECP; already, 189 MPs whose degrees had remained unverified have been asked to have them duly verified by today.

We sincerely hope and wish that the high-pitched activity that one witnesses today pays off and the country finally succeeds in holding elections on time that are, at the same time, free, fair and transparent. But the precedents being set are not legally sound and are not indicative if long term benefit to the country.