ISLAMABAD – Agreeing to relax the restriction on judiciary’s involvement in the election process, the national judicial committee on Saturday decided to provide services of judicial officers to the election commission in the upcoming general elections.

A special meeting of the National Judicial [Policy Making] Committee (NJPMC) considered the request of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for assistance in conducting the polls, in the light of comments offered by the ECP on the points earlier raised by the NJPMC in its Nov 3meeting.

Chaired by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the meeting decided to allow provision of services of adequate number of judicial officers to the election commission for their appointment as district returning officers (DROs) and returning officers (ROs).

The committee however observed that since the administration of justice is the prime responsibility of judiciary; therefore, the judicial officers assigned the task should do their routine judicial work and perform election duties in extra hours in the morning and evening so that the litigant would not suffer.

The committee also asked the election commission to facilitate the polling staff and provide all possible logistic and financial support to the DROs and ROs to meet immediate expenditure and contingencies during the election process. It also observed that the presiding officers and the polling staff have a key role in the election process; therefore, it was recommended that their deployment should be made carefully to eradicate the possibility of their involvement in the corrupt practices.

The chief justice, in his introductory remarks, stated that no one can deny the fact that holding of free and fair election is a prerequisite for sustainability of democracy which ensures prosperity through good governance. The sentiment of the political parties, the civil society and the media to enhance the credibility of election process by involving judiciary is a good omen.

He stated that unfortunately in the past, involvement of judiciary in election process had adversely affected the judicial work; therefore, at the time of framing National Judicial Policy, it was considered appropriate to keep aloof the judiciary from the elections process and focus all its energies and time on administration of justice.

He further said that during the last few years the Judiciary has struggled for its independence and “thank God, we have won the confidence of masses as protector of their rights”. “Therefore, this meeting has been convened to consider the request of Election Commission of Pakistan and decide with consensus to what extent and in which form the judiciary may be involved in the election process so that its impartiality and independence should not be questioned.”

Earlier, ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan briefed the NJPMC about the steps taken by the commission to conduct forthcoming general elections in a transparent manner. He shared the efforts made by the commission to update and rectify the electoral rolls in the light of directions issued by the Supreme Court and to address the concerns of different political parties.

Ishtiaq said that with the assistance of NADRA, the commission has updated the electoral rolls and presently 84.365 million voters have been enrolled and the process was still underway. He also briefed the meeting about the implementation status of directions issued by the SC in its judgment to ensure conduct of election in a free, fair and just manner.

The ECP secretary informed that to enhance the credibility of election process the services of employees of federal, provincial and autonomous bodies have been requisitioned for mixed deployment. He further informed that for deweaponisation of constituencies and to ensure polling in a free and congenial environment, a complete ban on display of arms and aerial firing would be imposed during the election campaigns and polling.

He assured that relevant legal provisions of Election Laws, CrPC and Arms Ordinance would be invoked. He informed that a comprehensive security plan for the protection of DROs, ROs and other polling staff and voters has been devised which would be employed with the help of police, armed forces and paramilitary forces. He further informed that they are considering possibility of monitoring the polling through installation of Close Circuit TVs (CCTVs) in and around the polling stations, particularly, in the sensitive areas. The secretary also informed that after approval of Code of Conduct, the same would be published for information of general public.

The committee recommended that the Code of Conduct may be translated and published in local and regional languages for easy comprehension. The ECP secretary told that the election commission has revised the nomination forms and disqualification clauses provided in the constitution are added therein and Urdu version thereof would be available to the candidates for their easy comprehension.

Ishtiaq informed that the instructions issued by the SC to monitor the election expenses, election campaign, ban on erection of camps near the polling stations are being followed in the by-elections. He further informed that polling station within a radius of two kilometres will be established and if not feasible facility of transport would be provided to the voters. He also informed that the training programme of capacity building of DROs, ROs and other staff has also been provided; the commission will chalk out a comprehensive practical training programme in consultation with the High Courts.

The meeting was attended by Federal Shariat Court Chief Justice (CJ) Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan, Balochistan High Court CJ Qazi Faez Isa, Sindh High Court CJ Mushir Alam, Peshawar High Court CJ Dost Muhammad Khan, Lahore High Court CJ Umar Ata Bandial, Islamabad High Court CJ Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman and NJPMC secretary.