ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally given go-ahead to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to procure 400 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for its pilot project to conduct by by-elections for the national and provincial assemblies constituencies.

The ECP has floated a tender seeking bids from the reputed national and international firms by June 20, 2016.

PTI central leader Dr Arif Alivi, an MNA from Karachi, has hailed the move as right step to help ensure degree of transparency in the electoral process. He hoped that the ECP would implement the EVMs project before 2018 general elections throughout the country.

Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, country manager for a Berlin-based organisation with a key focus on elections Democracy Reporting International (DRI), also welcomed the ECP decision and called for more reforms before 2016 elections. Stressing the need for further electoral reforms, Mirbahar said that there are other crucial electoral reforms that must be enacted at least one year before the 2018 elections to allow the ECP sufficient time for preparations as per the new legal framework.

“These reforms include ensuring complete transparency in electoral processes (particularly requiring full public disclosure of results data and giving observers full access to all electoral processes), an effective complaint mechanism and stronger accountability of the ECP, returning officers and polling staff.”  The reforms should also include the effective participation of women, minorities and persons with disabilities, the DRI’s analysis states.

A stronger and more transparent electoral framework will pave the way for improved electoral processes, increasing the chances for political stability in the country and reducing the likelihood of political tensions, as seen after the 2013 General Elections.

Commenting on the recent 22nd constitutional amendment, Mirbahar termed it important positive electoral reform for addressing longstanding problems which caused structural weaknesses in the functioning of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and its head, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).  In his assessment, the amendment, which has been passed unanimously by the National Assembly of Pakistan last week, would be an important step forward in strengthening the electoral framework.

He was of the view that the timing of the Constitutional amendment is apt as four members of the ECP were set to retire in June 2016.

The new members, according to him, will urgently need to be appointed in order to continue the ECP’s operations under a proper legal leadership.

He noted with satisfaction that many of the proposed amendments in the bill reflect the long standing demands of political parties and joint recommendations from civil society, international community and domestic and international observers groups, including the European Union’s Election Observation Mission to Pakistan’s 2013 general election as well as DRI’s suggestions.