The Federal Cabinet has finally moved towards granting more autonomy to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), by introducing key reforms to its funding, rules, procedures and other facets. On Tuesday, it approved the Electoral Reforms Bill, meaning that it will now be taken to the National Assembly by next month for debate and discussion. The most important of the reforms within is of course the fact that the ECP will not have to rely on the sitting government for funding, which means that there will no longer be a risk of collusion due to stoppage of funds. It remains to be seen just how this autonomy will be practically implemented, but the fact that the electoral body will also be empowered to take action against employees of other government departments deputed to the election for any issues will also go a long way in ensuring that the ECP can do its job more effectively.

Other reforms mentioned in the bill include more safeguards for voter registration – including the provision for automated registration at the time of making one’s Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC), greater scrutiny and facilitation of the registration of female voters and comparing the number of votes placed by both sexes in order to assess whether female voters are indeed being catered to. The delimitation of constituencies after every 10 years will also be made mandatory, provided of course, that the census is carried out every decade starting in March this year. All of these are necessary reforms and the government must be commended for taking this oft-delayed step, but the future of this bill now rests on the shoulders of the parliament, and it is hoped that both the opposition and treasury benches focus on the bill and the amendments – rather than indulging in the usual verbal (or even physical) scuffles that we have grown so accustomed to witnessing in the august halls of the assemblies.

While opposition parties have a right to discuss and disagree over specific reforms approved by the cabinet, the fact that electoral reforms are finally under the purview of the cabinet, and by extension, the parliament, means that voting in Pakistan is slowly heading towards more transparency and accountability. This also implies that there might be less room to cry foul in the elections of 2018. This is not to say that parties such as PTI and PPP were not raising a genuine issue, but the way it was portrayed – with mass rigging charges against the government – an issue of public interest took the backseat in favour of a personal grudge match against two political parties. With the cabinet stepping in approving the reforms, hopefully the two parties will now only lock horns where they are supposed to; the parliament, and that too with a more mature attitude.