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ECP finalises strategic plan for massive reforms

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to introduce massive reforms before next general elections.
ECP had formed a legal framework committee that has finalized its draft for legislation in this regard. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to introduce massive reforms before next general elections. The sources added that the proposed electoral reforms include, extension in the duration of scrutiny by 14 days, action against Returning Officers, empowering authority of election tribunals, action against those rigging the election and improvement in the procedure of voting.
The special parliamentary committee on electoral reforms would take up a set of recommendations prepared by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) including barring candidates from contesting from more than one constituency or else bear the cost of the ensuing by-poll, sources added. The committee, which has been scheduled to meet today (Monday) under the chair of Senator Mohammad Ishaq Dar will examine the report prepared by former senate committee on electoral reforms. The committee will draft the rules of business and revisit existing electoral laws and proposals finalised by the former relevant committees of the Senate and National Assembly. 
Other than the ECP’s recommendations which are the part of the reports of parliamentary committees on elections, the Strategic Plan 2014-18 of the ECP would be the basic document available to the reform committee for the purposes of electoral reforms, sources said. The 59-page draft Strategic Plan 2014-18 prioritises 13 main goals the ECP targets to achieve by 2018. Broadly, these include proposed streamlining the ECP’s operational outlook, financial and operational autonomy, and modernising the electoral process to increase transparency and fairness in the elections. 
One of the key recommendations of the ECP to the reform committee is one person one vote as the constitution prevents an elected candidate from holding on to more than one seat. Generally, prime ministerial or chief ministerial candidates do it as a safety measure. To be elected, they need to win one out of a multiple constituencies however if they win more than one they have to resign from one, which forces a by-election. An official of the ECP estimated that in general election 2013, they had to hold by-elections on 28 seats vacated by different political parties. In by-election of 2013, provincial assembly elections, the per-constituency cost for conducting the poll was Rs 30 million. 
The estimates for National Assembly elections are approximately Rs 50 million per constituency. By-elections cost more as, unlike general elections they do not have the economic advantages of scale, so ECP argues. “More than Rs 1 billion has been spent on the by-elections so far,” he estimated. The official maintained that the solution to this does not lie in asking the winning leader or party to pay for the by-election; besides it is a waste of time for thousands of voters, the official added. 
The committee will also take up the matters in up-coming meetings including (i) the ECP targets with respect to acquisition of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), (ii) devising operational plan to allow overseas Pakistanis to vote and (iii) attain complete autonomy in terms of financial independence in its upcoming five-year strategic plan. In the strategic plan, the commission is set to identify and propose necessary legislation to introduce EVMs and biometric identification of voters for elections. By March 2015, the commission plans to develop a practical operational plan for “out-of-country voting” for overseas Pakistani voters. 
Regarding its financial independence, the commission proposed recommendations in the Strategic Plan 2014-18 that include undertaking an assessment of the level of autonomy that the ECP has in line with its constitutional role to organise and conduct free and fair elections, and identify areas for improvement. Setting up a “Quality Assurance Committee” to check the quality of material procured and ensure that it is as per required specifications and standards is another ECP proposal. The ECP came under severe criticism for failing to meet several key targets in its previous Strategic Plan 2010-14, such as acquisition of EVMs and provision of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. However, the Commission claims, due to the successful targets achieved in the previous Strategic Plan, it achieved overall 55 per cent voter turnout in 2013 general elections.
In another recommendation, the ECP has recommended an increase in the nomination fee for the National Assembly (NA) candidates from Rs 4,000 to Rs 50,000 and for provincial assemblies (PAs) candidates from Rs 2,000 to Rs 25,000. In case of independent candidate, the fee should be Rs 100,000. 
The purpose is to discourage non-serious candidates from contesting elections, the official added.

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