ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan eyes 100 per cent increase in the voters turnout in the coming general elections following its initiative to revise the desired turnout target from 64 per cent to 88 per cent as the commission observed on Wednesday the first ever National Voters Day in Pakistan’s history.

The voters’ turnout was recorded 44 per cent during the general polls in 2008.  The ambitious target, the commission said, of eyeing twice an increase in the voters’ turnout, was meant to ensure maximum public participation in the electoral process.

The voters turnout percentage of all the eight general elections in Pakistan suggest that the turnout in 1977 was 50.02 per cent, 1985: 52.93 per cent, 1988: 43.07 per cent, 1990: 45.46 per cent, 1993: 40.28 per cent, 1997: 35.17 per cent, 2002: 41.80 per cent and 2008: 44.27 per cent. Compared to 80.13 million voters registered in 2008 general elections, 84.36 million voters are registered in the new voters lists. If polls are to be held after March next year, the number of voters in the new lists is expected to touch 94 million.

In the wake of the absence of the chief election commissioner and secretary ECP who are in India to attend a SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) moot, no mainstream politician from any major political party showed up on ECP call to participate in an official gathering at the commission vis-à-vis the much publicised National Voters Day. Invitations were sent out to the top government functionaries, government departments, armed forces, civil society, international organisations, non-governmental sector and media to join voters’ day activities.

In connection with the event, senior ECP officials visited the Supreme Court where Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry verified his vote details by sending his CNIC number in a text message to 8300, the ECP’s vote verification service.

“I am immensely pleased to learn that the Election Commission of Pakistan is celebrating today October 17, 2012, the National Voters Day, underlining the importance of a voter in the electoral process. No one can deny that voter participation is a key to ensuring credibility of an election. Change of government through votes as per the constitution, strengthens the democratic process thereby heralding new vistas of peace, happiness and development. Greater participation of voters in election puts positive pressure on the governing institutions to work for the well being of the people of Pakistan,” a statement from the Supreme Court quoted the CJ as having said.

Briefing on the Voters Education Plan launched during the voters’ day ceremony, the Acting Secretary ECP Afzal Khan said, the one-year plan aims at reaching out to the voters at grass-root, district, provincial and national levels to encourage the voters interest in the electoral process.  Terming the targeted hundred percent increase in the voters turnout as ‘overly ambitious,’ a female participant from Mardan said that the security situation and linked factors were not to allow a substantial increase in the number of voters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal area. “This is an overly ambitious target. I come from the rustic district of Mardan where women voters usually don’t cast votes and the security situation, inflation, load shedding and other issues have led to the public apathy towards political process. Do you really think that 88 percent turnout in next general polls is attainable?” she asked.

“It’s better to fail an ambitious target than achieve a smaller one. I come from Bannu that is more backward than Mardan. I have a very clear understanding of that area. I mean to say that we haven’t overlooked the ground realities.”

 We have made adequate arrangements to go by our plan. I hope that there would be a remarkable increase in the number of voters even if the desired target of 88 percent is not attained,” Afzal Khan replied 

Later, talking to this journalist, ECP’s acting boss said that political activity in KP and tribal region would be encouraged through consultation and reconciliation. Asked if military was to be involved in the militancy affected areas confronting law and order problem, he said. “The use of force can never be a substitute to peaceful ways to achieve political motives. I, myself, am a tribal and I know how to deal with people in tribal area. You have to reach out to them, take them onboard, ask about their problems, redress their reservations and you will get the results. That’s the best and only applicable solution to promote electoral activity in the militancy hit areas.”  

Earlier, sharing views during the occasion, the Acting Chief Election Commissioner and senior Supreme Court judge Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani said that the appointment of the judicial officers (sessions judges) as returning officers during the general polls was actively being considered in the light of the Judicial Policy 2009. “The chief justice of Pakistan is giving special consideration to the matter,” he said.

Saeed Ghani, a Senator from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), expressed reservations over what he described as ‘strict’ rules laid down in the election commission’s new code of conduct, saying this would negatively impact the electoral process.