ISLAMABAD - The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government on Monday in the National Assembly introduced “The election bill, 2017” for electoral reform and to unify laws relating to the conduct of elections.

Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid introduced the legislation, after Finance Minister Ishaq Dar laid report of the committee in the lower house.

Sharing the salient features of the bill and reforms, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said eight laws were merged in the new draft bill of Election Laws 2017 and election rules comprised of 15 chapters.

Hamid said the financial and administrative autonomy had been given to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the new bill.

According to the bill, the commissioner will have full financial powers including creating posts within its approved budgetary allocations and all the expenditure of the ECP would be charged upon the consolidated fund.

The ECP has been authorised to redress complaints/grievances during various stages of the election process [other than challenge to the election itself under Article 225] and its decision will be appealable to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The major reforms envisaged in the bill include strengthening of the election commission, which would be fully independent and autonomous.

It has been delegated powers of the high court for specific directions, administrative powers to control transfer of election officials and disciplinary action against them, full financial powers and powers to make rules without prior approval of the president.

The commission would prepare a comprehensive action plan six months before the elections specifying all legal and administrative measures for the conduct of elections.

A number of initiatives have been suggested in the new bill regarding preparation of voters' lists, delimitation, simplification of nomination papers, installation of surveillance cameras, penalties for violations, women voter turnout, powers of polling day officials, expediting election disputes, implementation of code of conduct, and counting of votes.

According to the bill, the ECP will have full administrative powers to control and transfer election officials during polls and take disciplinary action against them for any misconduct.

The election commissioner shall have full financial powers including powers to create posts within approved budgetary allocations.

The ECP is also being empowered to make rules without prior approval of the president or the government; as such rules will be subject to prior publication, seeking suggestions within 15 days of such publication.

Furthermore, the ECP shall prepare a comprehensive action plan six months before the elections specifying all legal and administrative measures that have been taken or are required to be taken.

The ECP shall establish a transparent results management system for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results.

“Every member of an assembly or Senate will be required to submit annual wealth statement in the same form as submitted under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001,” the bill says.

The commission, it says, shall scrutinise the wealth statement and in case it is found to be false, the commission may direct prosecution of the member for the offence of corrupt practice.

The electoral reforms would envisage consolidation of six laws including include Electoral Rolls Act 1974, Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974, Senate Election Act 1975; Representation of the People Act 1976,Election Commission Order 2002, Conduct of General Elections Order 2002, Political Parties Order 2002 and Allocation of Symbols Order 2002.

According to clauses of the bill, “The nomination forms has been simplified and the same form has been prescribed for candidates for all seats and while scruitinising of nomination paper, the returning officers shall not ask question which has no nexus to the information, supplied or received or objections raised by any person on tangible material on record.”

“In case of default on payment of taxes, loans, utility expenses or other government duties, a candidate may clear the fault at the time of scrutiny of the nomination papers, except in the case of wilful concealment,” the bill says.

“Maximum limit of election expenses shall be Rs4 million for National Assembly and Rs2 million for provincial assembly and Rs1.5 million for Senate,” it says.

Earlier, the house also adopted motion under rule-288 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct in the National Assembly to dispense with Rule-122 so that the Elections Bill is not referred to the standing committee.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, speaking on the same issue, said the PTI had demanded fresh appointments in the ECP but this was not incorporated in it.

He said the dissenting note was also mentioned in the bill.

It is relevant here that the incumbent government had formed a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in 2014, which drafted the bill after deliberations for more than two years.