Lahore - The electoral provisions of the Punjab Local Government Act need significant amendments to ensure inclusive and transparent elections. The participants of the “Forum on Local Elections Framework in Punjab” demanded a proactive role by the Provincial Assembly regarding the framework for holding local government elections.

The forum was arranged by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) as part of its European Union funded project “Supporting Advocacy for Electoral Reforms in Pakistan”. Over 60 representatives of major political parties, including 14 members of provincial assembly, civil society, the media and the ECP attended the forum, held at a local hotel on Tuesday.

Among the major concerns highlighted by the participants were the unequal and non-transparent delimitation of wards and councils, conducted without appropriate data, the inadequate representation of women, barriers in participation of minorities as well as unclear electoral mechanisms on polling procedures, results and dispute resolutions. During the event, the participants also stressed the need for timely and comprehensive reform before elections are called.

The Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmood-ur-Rashid highlighted that the law contained significant flaws, which need to be addressed to ensure local government system is introduced according to wishes of people and in line with true spirit of the constitution. “Frequent changes in the law without parliamentary discussions should be avoided and instead government should call a session of the Punjab Assembly to conduct comprehensive review and introduce amendments through parliamentary procedure” he said.

A Member of the Special Committee of the Punjab Assembly on Local Government Saba Sadiq stated that the law was open to amendments and reforms, as it was passed in very short time. She stressed that the Punjab Assembly would soon be call a session to discuss further amendments to improve the electoral framework for Local Government Elections. Commenting on the inadequate number of seats for women in the local councils, she urged  the political parties to encourage and support women to contest on general seats. 

The Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Hussain Naqi mentioned that the law should have been debated in the public domain, benefiting from the inputs by various stakeholders including civil society. “Significant concerns related to minorities electoral rights including a separate electoral roll for Ahmedis remain unaddressed as was the case during general elections” he said.

The Chairperson of the Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN) Zahid Islam said one of the many discrepancies in the LG framework was assigning the role of delimitation officer and returning officer to state employees. “The conduct of elections should be ruled by a separate law, so that it which should be  as detailed and  comprehensive as possible, instead of it being part of the broad local government act” he said.

Presenting the DRI’s recommendations found in its Assessment of the Punjab Local Elections Framework, Election Expert Hassan Nasir explained how Punjab’s electoral framework falls short to fulfill Pakistan’s commitments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), amongst other international obligations. “The current law should define a number of fundamental issues in greater detail, including improved transparency of electoral process, a clear electoral system, transparent polling and counting procedures and effective dispute resolution mechanisms”  he said.

During the discussions, the participants highlighted that the law does not provide for consistent and adequate representation of women in the local councils. They called for an increase in the number of women representatives at all levels to 33 percent, regardless of the size of the council. They also called for providing gender desegregated data on the voter turn-out so that it could be determined whether women were barred from voting.

The speakers of the forum included MPAs Ayesha Javed, Suraya Nasim, Raheela Khadim, Tariq Rizvi, Shamim Akhtar, Waqas Mokal, Sadia Suhail, Shunila Tariq Ruth and others.