ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday unveiled its plan for next general elections in 2018 promising to introduce biometric voting machines, but rubbished the rigging allegations in last year's polls.
ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan during a news conference held here at the commission's office said foreign observers and independent election monitoring bodies had expressed satisfaction with election process in country held in May 2013.
"Let me make it very clear that anybody who has doubt about rigging in elections, should wait for the Election Tribunals to come up with final judgments," the secretary told newsmen in apparently pointing to Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, who has been lambasting the election results.
The ECP's secretary said that Sindh government also wanted use of biometric machines in the upcoming local government (LG) elections which might delay the electoral exercise on the lowest tier beyond 2014. He indicated that local government polls in KP will possibly take place in November this year.
Elaborating its second five-year strategic plan, the official said the ECP had decided to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections due in 2018, reminding that it was the demand of all the political parties.
He said the features of the machine which will have in-built biometric verification system that had already been finalised and necessary orders for production of prototype machines for pilot projects had been issued. He however said the introduction of EVMs for general elections would require legislation by the parliament.
Ishtiaq said 4.5 million expatriates holding national identity cards for overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) had been enrolled as voters, but he said enabling them to cast their votes at polling stations established abroad would also require legislation.
ECP secretary said the commission was in the process of preparing a draft package of electoral reforms. He pointed out that reforming the electoral legal framework was the first of the 13 broader goals set under the second strategic plan.
He explained that key feature of the electoral reforms package to be sent to the parliament would be the power of the ECP to take action against the polling staff – including the Returning Officers (ROs), District Returning Officers (DROs) and presiding officers – found involved in wrongdoings.
Replying to a query he said the ECP derived its powers from the constitution and the law. "Under the law, if a detailed inquiry is required into an allegation of electoral irregularity, it falls in the domain of the election tribunals. But we have sought empowerment of ECP," he said.
Commenting on a report by free and fair elections network (Fafen) about the number of rejected votes in 35 national assembly constituencies outnumbering the difference between the votes secured by the winners and runners-up, he said it was not something surprising. "If the votes had been rejected without any ground, the issue could have been raised before the returning officer, who invites all candidates before opening the bags containing votes", he remarked. He said 12 of the 35 such seats were won by PML-N, six by independents, four by PPP, three by JUI (F) and one by PTI.
The secretary underlined the need for fresh delimitation of national and provincial assemblies constituencies in view of the demographic changes that had taken place over the years and called for holding of much delayed population census in the country. He said a summary to this effect moved by the ECP had been approved by the prime minister and the matter was currently pending with the Council of Common Interests (CCI). He added the ECP also plans to introduce geographical information system (GIS) for delimitation to make the process fool-proof. He said the candidates would be able to see their entire constituency on website.