Leading civil society representatives have demanded that the ongoing electoral reforms process in parliament should take into account independence and accountability of electoral processes and ensure transparency and access of citizens, especially women, minorities and persons with disabilities (PWDs), to all stages of the electoral process.
A set of comprehensive set of recommendations related to electoral administration, transparency, accountability and participation of all citizens including women, minorities and persons with disabilities was put forward by the representatives of civil society at the roundtable conference on “Civil Society Perspective on Electoral Reforms” arranged by Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) in Islamabad.
They also demanded strengthening and introduction of provincial election authorities in the light of 18th Amendment and emerging needs of local government elections management. One of the demands was to recruit provincial members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) through the provincial assemblies using the similar processes as adapted in appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC).
Participating in dedicated sessions on above-mentioned themes, the civil society representatives welcomed the formation of Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms by parliament to undertake comprehensive reforms and urged the committee to put the interest of citizens and voters at the centre stage of the reforms process.
Centre for Civic Education Executive Director Zafarullah Khan said in his introductory remarks that it was for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the agenda of electoral reforms was led by parliament instead of other institutions. “Electoral reforms need serious legislative process and it is a welcome step that the parliamentary committee is welcoming recommendations from citizens and civil society,” he added.
Presenting on accountability and transparency of electoral processes, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) Sindh Provincial Coordinator Hassan Nasir insisted that the independence of ECP should be ensured by removing presidential approval for introducing new rules and regulations. “However, independence of ECP should be coupled with requirements of accountability and responsiveness,” he added.
“Without acknowledging voters and political parties as primary stakeholders of the electoral process, any reforms process would only be narrow and limited,” said Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN) Executive Director Muddasir Rizvi. He also demanded structural reforms in the functioning of ECP and related processes. Participating in the session on women’s participation, Rakhsanda Naz said that the modalities for election of women on the reserved seats should be defined and current party list system for reserved seats should be improved so that the women can be elected directly and fairly.
Participants also urged to ensure legal guarantees for removing all barriers to women’s participation as voters, candidates and holders of public offices. They urged that the political parties should be required to have women candidates on winnable general seats as well as significant representation of women in their own party structures. SPO Chief Executive Naseer Memon said that the electoral reforms have taken centre stage in Pakistan’s politics recently. It was a right time that civil society articulated its position on the reforms for consideration of the parliamentary committee. He said that all the recommendations from the discussion will be forwarded to the parliamentary committee in due time.
Presenting on electoral rights of persons with disabilities, Special Talent Exchange Project (STEP) President Muhammad Atif Sheikh highlighted the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities during the electoral process. He demanded that not only polling stations should be made accessible for persons with disabilities but policies and codes of conduct should be introduced to safeguard rights of PWDs.