ISLAMABAD - The election commission on Saturday issued a slightly amended schedule for this year’s general elections, apparently without exercising its authority to make the desired increase in the period for scrutiny of nomination papers.
Scrutiny of the candidates will be done in seven days (from March 30 to April 5), as was the previous practice. From April 6 to 9, the candidates and their opponents can file appeals, which will be reviewed by the tribunals until April 16. Any candidate can be disqualified from contesting the elections until April 17 and final list of candidates will be issued on April 18.
Following that, the commission has allotted 22 days to the candidates for the election campaign and general elections will be held on May 11. The ECP announced the said schedule will also apply to seats reserved for women and non-Muslims in NA and provincial assemblies.
It announced the offices of the ECP and those of DROs and ROs will remain open on March 23, 24, 30, and 31. The ECP has also frozen the electoral rolls that would follow their final compilation as the process was already underway.
Earlier, the election commission had sought legislation for increasing the nomination papers' scrutiny period from seven to 30 days while the Senate Special Committee on Election Issues recommended 14 days increase. Under the rules, the ECP's recommendation to increase the nomination papers' scrutiny term requires legislation. In the absence of the assemblies, this can be done through a presidential ordinance.
After an assurance from the Attorney General Pakistan about provision of all possible help from the federation, the Supreme Court had directed the commission to contact presidency for the changes it desires to ensure that elections are held in a transparent manner.
In fact, the election commission's reported decision to amend the timetable and send it for the chief election commissioner's approval on Friday evening kept the reports afloat that the ECP was now set to increase the term for scrutinising the nomination papers from seven to 14 days, as recommended by a Senate panel. But even that did not happen as the commission, after creating hype about the stringent security of the candidates, has now chosen to remain contended with the 7-day scrutiny.
In the light of Article 218 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, the ECP stands empowered to take any decision for the conduct of free and fair elections. It reads, “It shall be the duty of the election commission to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.”
In separate conversations with this scribe a number of times, the electoral experts like Ahmed Bilal Mehboob and Kanwar Dilshand have argued that the ECP, under Article 218 (3), is not required to seek parliamentary legislation or even the president's approval to make or amend election rules or laws. Exercising its powers citing the same article, the ECP recently got the amended draft of the nomination papers for general polls printed without seeking the approval from the president.
Mehboob believes that the presidential approval to the ECP in the light of Section 107 of The Representation of the People Act (RoPA) 1976 amounts to compromising the electoral body's independence and autonomy.