ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court’s bar on the Election Commission of Pakistan from holding by-polls in any parliamentary constituency till the new electoral lists is believed to be helpful in putting the ECP in order without further dillydallying in preparation of new voter lists.

The politicians and electoral experts have lauded the SC action to get tough on the ECP management for its slackness in preparation of Electoral Rolls 2011, slamming the commission for the delay that prompted the apex court to intervene and bar it from holding by-election on existing electoral rolls which are containing over 37 million unverified voters.

The by-polls on five National Assembly and a Punjab Assembly constituencies, scheduled for February 20, would now be held after the introduction of Final Electoral Rolls (FERs) of ER 2011 while the SC-given deadline for the preparation of ER 2011 is February 23.

Considering the pace of “efficiency” the ECP has shown, the given deadline is unlikely to be met that might lead the apex court to take decisive action against the ECP top brass.

Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad welcomed the SC order, saying the commission, in principle, is obligated not to hold any by-polls when the Annual Revision (preparation of new electoral rolls) is underway.

He cited Article 219 that does not provide holding by-polls when Annual Revision is in process.

“The SC order is welcoming as it will ensure transparency. There is no justification for the ECP to hold by-polls till the FER are in place.”

Pakistan People’s Party central leader Qazi Sultan Mehmood questioned the validity of the by-polls that were to be held on existing electoral rolls.  “While a bill is tabled in the Parliament to get by-polls at 28 parliamentary constituencies validated that were held after the passage of 18th Amendment, there is no point in conducting fresh by-polls on manipulated voter lists.”

The ECP was scheduled to prepare the new voter lists by February 23 and fresh by-polls were to be held under ER 2011, Mehmood recalled. “But, it is sheer negligence on the part of ECP administration.”

JUI-F Secretary General Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri demanded stern action against the ECP management for, what he termed, an attempt to befooling the entire nation.

“The ECP management told us on several occasions that preparation work on new electoral rolls would be completed by December and final list would be ready by the coming February. The ECP has not shown any progress and it deserves more than criticism.”

After facing much criticism for showing bureaucratic negligence in preparing ER 2011, the ECP management lately passes the buck on National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) for the delay.

However, the Nadra is willing to carry out the printing and computerisation of the ER 2011 by February 23. 

“Nobody can deny the importance of elections on transparent voter lists and not the manipulated ones. The ECP was to commit an unpardonable folly by trying to hold by-polls on the same rigged and rotten voter lists but SC duly intervened to stop this malpractice. We fully support this decision,” said Awami National Party Information Secretary Zahid Khan.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Saad Rafique pointed to “irregularities” the ECP had committed in the pending ER 2011, saying that several people were falsely registered on fake postal addresses.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement MNA Haider Abbas Rizvi said the MQM would give any reaction after party consultation on the issue.

The strong resentment shown by the politicians of ruling and opposition parties underline the lack of trust on the ECP management.

Apart from preparation of ER 2011, the ECP has yet to address the degrees verification issue and establishing mechanism for streamlining political finance and assets verification.