ISLAMABAD -  The Committee on Electoral Reforms has prepared Election Bill-2017 with an amalgamation of previous eight different laws and proposing new measures in different areas of electioneering to further empower Election Commission of Pakistan for holding free, fair and transparent elections in the country.

A number of initiatives has been suggested in the new Bill regarding preparation of voters lists, delimitation, simplification of nomination papers, installation of surveillance cameras, penalties of violations, women voters turnout, powers of polling day officials, expediting election disputes, implementation of Code of Conduct and vote counting.

As revealed in the main features of the Election Bill 2017, eight election laws including the Electoral Rolls Act: 1974 (Act No.XXI of 1974); the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974 (Act No.XIXIV of 1974); the Senate (Election) Act, 1975 (Act No. LI of 1975); the Representation of the People Act, 1976 (Act No. LXXXV of 1976); the Election Commission Order, 2002 (Chief Executive's Order No.1 of 2002); the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 (Chief Executive's Order No.7 of 2002); the Political Parties Order, 2002(Chief Executive's Order No_ 18 of 2002); and the Allocation of Symbols Order, 2002, have been amalgamated.

The Elections Bill, 2017 will have 15 Chapters (with 241 sections) including Preliminary; Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP); Delimitation of Constituencies; Electoral Rolls; Conduct of Elections to Assemblies; Elections to Reserved Seats in the Assemblies; Conduct of Elections to the Senate; Election Expenses and Wealth Statements; Election Disputes; Offences, Penalties and Procedures; Parties; Allocation of symbols; Conduct of elections to the Local Governments; Caretaker Government; and Miscellaneous.

The ECP has been greatly strengthened and made fully independent and autonomous. It has been empowered to issue specific directions for performance of its duties, which shall be enforced throughout Pakistan.

It will have full administrative powers to control and transfer of election officials during elections and take disciplinary action against them for misconduct.

The 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, 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. It is also being authorised to redress complaints and grievances during various stages of the election process (other than challenge to the election itself under Article 225), its decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The ECP shall establish a transparent Results Management System for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results. It has been empowered to delegate its functions to its members and officers.

It shall conduct training programmes for election officials and take measures to promote public awareness regarding laws and best practices and upload on its website list of constituencies, election results and decisions on complaints etc.

The ECP shall delimit constituencies after every census and NADRA will transmit relevant data of every CMG issued by it to the ECP so every citizen who obtains a CN1C from NADRA can automatically be enrolled as voter at his permanent or temporary address on the basis of his option in the application for issuance of CNIC.

Registration of voter at an address other than the permanent or temporary address mentioned in his CMG shall remain valid till he applies for transfer of vote or modification or renewal of CNIC.

Hard and soft (in USB-MF format) copies of Electoral Rolls(with photographs of voters) will be provided to all candidates on payment ensuring that these are the same copies as available with the Returning Officer and Presiding Officers. The ECP shall take special measures for registration of women, non-Muslims, persons with disabilities and transgender citizens as voters.

The ECP shall appoint District Returning Officers, Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers at least 60 days prior to the issuance of the Election Program of the general elections.

All election officials shall make an oath before commencement of their duties that they shall act strictly in accordance with the Act, Rules and directions of the ECP.

The proposed Bill provides, as far as practicable, distance between a polling station and voters assigned to it, shall not exceed one kilometer and list of polling stations and polling scheme shall be published at least 30 days before the polling day.

ECP is also being empowered to install surveillance cameras at highly sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring of activities in such polling stations.

Nomination Form has been simplified in the proposed law and the same Form has been prescribed for candidates for all seats.

Nominations or candidature fees for the National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies and Senate shall be Rs 30,000; Rs 20,000; and Rs 20.000 respectively.

Moreover, while scrutinizing a nomination paper, the Retuning Officer shall not ask any question which has no nexus to the information, supplied or received or objections raised by any person, or tangible material on record.

In case of any default on payment of taxes, loans, utility expenses or other Government duties, a candidate may clear the default at the time of scrutiny of the nomination papers, except in the case of willful concealment.

For ballot papers, the ECP will itself determine constituency-wise requirements of ballot papers based on the formula that number of ballot papers per polling station shall be equal to the number of voters at the polling station, rounded off to the next hundred.

Persons with any physical disability will be able to cast their votes through postal ballot.

The Returning Officer shall immediately prepare a provisional result of the constituency and will finally consolidate the result within three days from the polling day or within five days in case of recounting of votes. If the victory margin between the returned candidate and runner-up candidate is less than 5 per cent of the total votes polled or 10,000 votes, whichever is less, the Returning Officer shall recount all the votes on the request of a contesting candidate before commencement of the consolidation of the results.

This will be in addition to the ECP's power to order the Returning Officer torecount all the votes before the conclusion of consolidation proceedings, for reasons to be recorded.

If a candidate fails to avail recount option at this stage, he will be debarred from claiming this relief from the Tribunal.

In case of equality of votes between the two candidates, both will be declared returned candidates and each shall become member for half of the term of the Assembly.

The Bill further states that ECP may conduct pilot projects for utilisation of Electronic Voting Machines (EVIV1s) and biometric voters identification system in by-elections in addition to the existing manual procedures for voter verification, casting and counting of votes to assess their technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility.

The ECP may also undertake pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis.

All election related documents including Statements of Count and Ballot Paper Accounts, except the ballot papers, shall be public documents and may be inspected or copies thereof obtained.

Election expenses shall be monitored by District Monitoring Teams of the ECP. ECP may impose fines in case of violation of the Act or the Rules.

For election disputes, the system has been made more expeditious and result-oriented by including provisions like case management; day-to-day trial; mandatory costs for adjournments;suspension of the member for deliberate delay; and decision within four months.

The Bill proposes that a candidate may file an election petition directly with the Election Tribunal.

The discretion of a Tribunal to declare a candidate other than the returned candidate as elected has been confined to his obtaining more votes or where voters have deliberately "thrown away" their votes in favour of the returned candidate fully knowing that he was not qualified or was disqualified from being elected. The Tribunal may order fresh polls in one or more polling stations.

In case of offences, the Commission may direct summary trial of an electoral offence in accordance with the provisions of Chapter XX of the Cr PC. The Head of the District Police shall intimate progress of any investigation of an election offence to the ECP.

To check mushroom growth of political parties, the Bill provides that conditions for enlistment of a new political party with the ECP will include, in addition to existing requirements, minimum 2000 members and Rs. 200,000 enlistment fee. A political party shall submit to the ECP annual financial statement and list of

donors who have donated Rs 100,000 and above to the political party.

Moreover, symbols allocated to candidates and political parties should be visibly different from each other.

About caretaker governments, the Bill provides that performance of functions by the caretaker government have been confined to day-to-day: routine, non-controversial matters that are necessary to run the affairs of government.

A caretaker government shall not take major policy decisions except on urgent matters.

The ECP may, in consultation with political parties, issue a Code of Conduct for political parties, candidates and election and polling agents. It may also issue Codes of Conduct for media, security personnel and election observers.

The ECP shall take special measures to encourage participation of women in the electoral process, including registration of women voters and actual voting on polling day. The ECP shall conduct awareness media campaigns for registration of women voters, and their participation in elections. If the variation in the number of men and women voters in a constituency is more than 10 per cent, special measures will be taken by ECP to reduce such variation.

The Presiding Officer will submit gender-segregated figures of voters in each polling station. If the turnout of women voters is less than 10 per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency, ECP may presume that women have been restrained through an agreement from casting their votes and may declare polling at one or more polling stations, or election in the whole constituency as void.

Political Parties shall encourage women membership and award at least five per cent party tickets to women candidates on general seats.