Power to impeach ECP members should rest with parliament: HRCP

MQM’s Farooq Sattar speaks at the roundtable on Friday. Haji Adeel of ANP, I.A. Rehman of HRCP and Justice Bhajan Das are also present. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

 

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has proposed that the power to impeach members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should be vested with a commission consisting of members of parliament.

The proposal was part of a set of recommendations for electoral reforms, shared at a roundtable with representatives of political parties and the civil society in attendance.

Dr Farooq Sattar from the MQM, Haji Adeel from the ANP, Mian Muhammad Aslam of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli of the Qaumi Watan Party and Ghulam Nabi Marri of BNP-Mengal took part.

Under existing law, the procedure for the removal of the chief election commissioner and members of the commission is the same as that for the impeachment of judges of the superior courts.

HRCP representatives said that Article 217 of the Constitution should be amended to ensure that the acting CEC will not be a sitting judge. It was pointed out that the provision does not limit the service period for the acting CEC and consequently one sitting Supreme Court judge or the other has occupied the office since the resignation of Fakharuddin G. Ebrahim.

The commission observed that such ad hoc appointment of sitting judges for a long time has had a serious adverse impact on the working and independence of the ECP. It suggested that the senior-most member of the ECP may be appointed the acting CEC for a limited period of time.

It said the necessary requirement for the chief election commissioner to have been a judge of the Supreme Court or a high court must be dropped from Article 213 of the Constitution.

“Experience from across jurisdictions has shown that judges are not necessarily the best administrators and least of all, good election commissioners. On the contrary, some of the most competent election commissioners have come from the administrative services and other walks of life.”

The commission recommended that anyone with the qualifications and experience required for running an autonomous organisation, who demonstrated experience of involvement in electoral processes, may be appointed chief election commissioner, adding that a similar requirement for ECP members should also be dispensed with.

The commission said that the division of work among ECP members should be clearly spelt out; at least one of the members should be a woman and women and religious minorities should be represented on the ECP staff.

It said that election law should prescribe ECP’s responsibility for and jurisdiction over auditing, investigating and enforcing through fines or prosecution requirements for financial reporting by candidates, political parties and their office-holders.

Noting that the qualification clause of the Constitution had been wrongly used to test the Islamic knowledge of electoral candidates who had even been harassed and ridiculed by the returning officers, the HRCP proposed deletion of sub-clauses ‘D’ to ‘G’ under Clause 1 of Article 62.

Dr Farooq Sattar highlighted the significance of a census, saying that it was important for national development and future of democracy.

He stressed that the time for scrutiny of nomination papers of candidates in general polls should be enhanced to at least 21 days and Articles 62 and 63 should be reviewed.

He proposed that the elections to the national and provincial assemblies should be declared null and void in case of failure to hold local government elections within six months after general elections.

Haji Adeel of ANP observed that the elections in constituencies where proportion of women votes is less than 25 per cent should be declared void. He endorsed the HRCP proposal about qualification for appointment of CEC, saying that bureaucrats and technocrats could be appointed as chief election commissioner.

Ghulam Nabi Marri of BNP-M was of the view that the country has witnessed controlled elections for decades and claimed that the same practice was continuing even now.

He pointed out that Akhtar Mengal’s result had been withheld for 16 days without any reason, though he had won with a whopping margin and no complaint had been filed by his opponents. He alleged that the results of 2013 elections were changed over three to four days.

Mian Aslam of the JI was of the view that voters should be registered at their permanent addresses unless they want it otherwise. He called for financial and administrative autonomy of the ECP.

Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli regretted that a political party was proposing electoral reforms on roads while its members were not turning up at the meetings of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. She proposed the appointment of permanent returning officers and district returning officers.

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