ISLAMABAD - In a public forum organised by PILDAT on the state of electoral reforms in Pakistan, participants including representatives of major political parties like PPP, PML-N, PML, MQM and PTI urged the government and Election Commission of Pakistan to speed up the process of electoral reforms in Pakistan well before the upcoming elections.

The forum, which was also addressed by a number of parliamentarians, expressed deep concern about the quality of Electoral Rolls, which many of them found to contain serious flaws when these were displayed for inviting public comments from March 1 to 21. The participants hoped that the flaws detected at the preliminary stage would be rectified before the final electoral rolls are released on 27th May.

It was demanded that Election Commission should release the statistics relating to the number of objections received during the display period and the number of voters who approached the ECP via SMS or at the Display Centres for information about their votes during the display period.

A concern was expressed about the lack of transparency on this count despite the fact that the display period concluded more than a month ago. A similar transparency was also demanded about the number of voters reached and the modifications made as a result of the door-to-door verification by the ECP earlier.

A number of participants also underlined the need to introduce reforms to effectively enforce the election expenses limits prescribed in the law. There was a general consensus that the transportation of voters to the polling stations on the polling day constituted a major chunk of the election expenses and therefore the number of polling stations should be substantially increased to facilitate easy access to the polling stations without motor vehicles. Some participants suggested that the number of polling stations might even be doubled or tripled, if necessary.

The forum expressed concern at the lack of clarity about the procedure of adding fresh names to the electoral rolls after the final electoral rolls are released on 27th May. The participants were unanimous in demanding that issuance of CNIC should automatically lead to the registration as a voter. It was suggested that the application forms for CNIC may be modified to collect applicant’s preference for the place of voting.

The Forum also noted with concern that the Prime Minister did not initiate the process of appointing a new Chief Election Commissioner despite the fact that it was well known that the former CEC was to retire on 23rd March 2012. The Forum participants were also concerned that the Election Commission was currently working without a Secretary and an Additional Secretary during the crucial election year.

Conducting the Citizens’ Forum, Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gillani suggested that all political parties should build consensus on electoral reforms and pass the necessary legislation at an early date.

Briefing the participants on the state of Electoral Reforms in Pakistan, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director-PILDAT said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has achieved an overall progress of 53 % on its 5-year Strategic Plan for electoral reforms as of March 31, 2012.

PILDAT determined that as of March 31, 2012, the average progress made on 77 objectives, which were scheduled to be completed by March 31, 2012, was 39%, whereas in the last quarter the progress on these objectives was assessed to be 36%. The average progress made on 46 objectives, whose realization is due after March 31, 2012, was assessed to be 14 %.

Mr. S. A. Iqbal Qadari, Chairperson NA Sub Committee on Electoral Reforms said that all politicians wished that the electoral rolls must be in a good shape but, unfortunately, Election laws have difficulties and election process in our country has complexities, which had retarded the process of reforms.