With just a year more to go as country holds its next General Elections to elect the new parliament, a dialogue on electoral reforms took place in federal capital Islamabad on January 3, 2017.

Organized by Democracy International Reporting an organisation working to promote political participation of citizens and the development of democratic institutions worldwide, the event invited parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle and civil society representatives who spoke on electoral reforms .

The event which was chaired by Honourable Chairman Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani, began with the interim analysis of the Draft Elections Bill 2017 presented by DRI Country Representative in Pakistan, by Hassan Nasir Mirbahar. He emphasised that prompt passage of the Draft Elections Bill, 2017 is essential to allow sufficient time for its implementation. He also recognised the Committee’s initiatives of soliciting input from general public and key stakeholders that will enhance the transparency of the process.

Following Mr. Hassan Nasir’s presentation, country’s renowned human rights activist, who was representing Pakistan’s civil society at the event, Mr. I.A Rehman spoke to the audience where he welcomed the PCER’s initiative. I.A Rehman stated that these reforms were the need of time which should have been made long ago. He further raised up the issues related to women and religious minorities of Pakistan that the way of indirectly electing women and religious minorities is undemocratic and in the past, both women and non-Muslims have faced difficulties in casting their votes. He also specifically pointed out the flaws of having current 2002 joint electorate that isolates one specific religious community of Pakistan. He talked about ending all discriminatory clauses which were prerequisite for free and fair elections.

Representing, Free and Fair Election Network’s (FAFEN) Rashid Chaudhary, said that despite the laudable efforts of the PCER, ECP rules for elections will require government approval under the draft bill, which may undermine the ECP’s independence and the credibility of elections in Pakistan.

A question answer, suggestion session later followed where parliamentarians, members of provincial assemblies from all mainstream political parties of Pakistan raised their concerns and feedback. Awami Worker’s Party Senator Afrasiab Khattak opened up the session followed by which, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Member of Provincial Assembly, Faisal Sabzwari presented his views. He stated that fair delimitations were a prerequisite for elections and also pointed out how Sindh, the province that he was representing, is the only province that still uses quota system among its rural and urban population. Nasrullah Khan Zayray, MPA, Balochistan assembly raised up the issues of Pashtun population in the parliament pointing out that despite having a population of around 5 million in the country’s biggest city Karachi, there is no such representation of Pashtun people in Sindh Assembly. MPA Meraj Humayun Khan suggested increasing women representation in the parliament by 10% while Nusrat Abbasi suggested forming a new staff solely for the purpose of looking after elections process on Election Day instead of using services of school teachers. Representatives belonging to Jamat-e-Islami talked about eradicating feudal system if Pakistanis want to move forward with consistent and sustainable democracy. Another MPA from KPK proposed making ECP entirely independent in case the country wishes to see free and fair elections. An MNA belonging to Pakistan People’s Party talked about how women, despite being 54% of the country’s population are given just 5% representation in the parliament, something she referred to as “sheer injustice”

The Question Answer session was closed by Dr. Ramesh Kumar of Pakistan Muslim League (N) who talked about some important issues. While talking to audience Mr. Ramesh Kumar stated:

“I have objection to this term minority. We are not minorities but equal citizens of Pakistan. If you want to address non-Muslim population of Pakistan you can call us “non-Muslims” but don’t refer to as “minorities” because we are equal Pakistanis and I am proud to be a Pakistani Hindu.”

Finally, the honourable Chairman Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani, spoke to the audience who commended DRI’s effort in bringing stakeholders including parliamentarians, civil society and media together to discuss the crucial and long-awaited electoral reforms as well as its presentation of the first publicized interim analysis of the bill. He said that electoral reforms are crucial ahead of 2018 general elections. He added that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) needs to assert its role in managing and conducting elections.