At present, the introduction of certain extensive electoral reforms in Pakistan is one of the most crucial demands made by the protesting political parties, the PTI and PAT. There has been a tendency of demanding such reforms after every election in our country. Generally, the term electoral reform is used for the purpose of introducing some fundamental changes in any electoral system. It involves matters like voter’s eligibility, universal suffrage, women’s suffrage, disenfranchisement, proportional representation, first-past-the-post system, recall election, election silence and secret ballot etc. Presently, we don’t have any significant issue of this nature in our country. Therefore, before making any demand, one should know the exact nature of his need.

Besides ensuring its independence, the constitution of Pakistan clearly defines the composition, powers and functions of the Election Commission of Pakistan. In fact, it is one of the most powerful and independent election bodies in the world. The Election Commissioners enjoy security of their offices just like the judges of the superior courts in Pakistan. They cannot be removed from their respective seats except in the manner prescribed under Article 209 of the constitution i.e. through reference to the Supreme Judicial Council. Under article 220 of the constitution, all the executive authorities in the federation and provinces are bound to assist Election Commissioners in the discharge of their duty. Under certain circumstances, Article 249A of the constitution empowers ECP to appoint caretaker prime minster and chief minister of the province, as it did last year. Likewise, to assist ECP in holding free and fair elections is considered to be the primary duty of the caretaker government in the country.

The Representation of the People Act, 1973 is an exhaustive piece of law that deals with various aspects of electoral process in Pakistan in detail. It clearly elaborates the procedural matters regarding the conduct of election, dispute-resolution mechanism, qualifications and code of conduct for the individual candidates. It also provides punishments and penalties for the violation of electoral laws. Whoever tries to influence the results of these elections, in an unauthorized or illegal manner, is supposed to be punished under the law. This Act also enumerates certain procedural formalities to ensure fair and transparent conduct of the elections. It provides guidelines for Presiding Officers and Returning Officers (RO) to prepare and consolidate election results. Under the rules, the Presiding Officers are bound to prepare and transmit Form XIV (Statement of Count) and Form XV (Ballot Paper Account) to Retuning Officer. The Retuning Officers further transmit Form XVI (Consolidated Statement of Count) and Form XVII (Result of the Count) to the ECP.

Likewise, The Electoral Roll Act, 1974 and the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974 significantly empowers ECP to prepare and revise electoral rolls and to make crucial decisions regarding the delimitation of constituencies for the election to National and Provincial Assemblies. Therefore, presently, there exists an efficient and effective legal framework to ensure free and fair elections in Pakistan. As a matter of fact, we lack institutional capacity and political will to effectively enforce theses electoral laws at the time of conducting there elections. Therefore, instead of striving for electoral reforms, we should make some serious efforts for the effective and efficient enforcement of the existing electoral laws and regulations, and plugging the administrative loophole present within our electoral system.

By ensuring better election management in the country, we can cure our common electoral maladies like rigging and manipulation of election results. There are always three aspects of an election management: pre-election, election-day and post-election one. Besides exceeding the prescribed limit of election expenses, there have been frequent complaints regarding the violation of the code of conduct by various candidates during the elections. Therefore, the ECP must strictly enforce the entire set of electoral rules and regulations before and during the electoral process. In order to augment administrative capacity of the ECP, all the Returning Officers (RO) should directly be made answerable to the ECP for their electoral functions.

Management of the polling day is itself most crucial. The ECP must take some pragmatic steps to ensure the security of the voters and polling staff at polling stations, free and smooth running of the polling process, and finally transmitting of the election material to ROs. All this process requires an effective administrative apparatus. We have found the law enforcing agencies, namely the police, to be particularity incapable to meet these challenges on election day. The political culture and general dynamic of politics in the country necessarily warrant the presence of some effective deterrent. Under the circumstances, there are only the military and paramilitary personnel that can serve this purpose on the election day. The ECP has reportedly turned down the gracious offer made by the then COAS General Kayani to facilitate it to hold free and fair elections last year. Had the army been involved in the entire electoral process, there would have been, comparatively, credible elections last year. Likewise, to overcome certain resource deficiencies, the elections can also be held in different phases, as it is done in India.

Recently, the ECP has unveiled its second five years Strategic Plan 2014-2018. Under this plan, it intends to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to ensure transparency in the next general election, due in 2018. Currently, only a few countries, like Brazil, Germany and India, are completely relying on the electronic voting system. Besides this, there are also some countries, which partially use this system during the elections. Even most of the advanced European countries still don’t consider this system as reliable and credible. Owing to lack of testing, absence of certification, inadequate audit procedure and certain other shortcomings, this system is always vulnerable to fraud and errors. There have also been complaints regarding the manipulation and hacking of this system in various countries.

We should exercise extreme caution and care while making any decision regarding introducing EVM’s during elections in Pakistan. The much-hyped biometric system has brought more confusions and controversies instead of ensuring transparency in the 2013 general elections. Likewise, ending up with one of most controversial elections in the history of the country last year, ECP’s last Strategic Plan of 2010-2014 has also proved to be mere a damp squib. Therefore, instead of formulating academic strategies before the elections and publishing post-election review reports, the ECP should devise some pragmatic plans to ensure better election management.

The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com. Follow him on Twitter