Cabinet body okays tweaks in electoral law – 04 May 2023

ECP will no longer have to consult with president, governors to announce polls

The Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC) on Wednesday approved amendments to sections 57 and 58 of the Elections Act, 2017 — changes that would empower the electoral watchdog to alter the date and schedule of the polls, curtailing the authority of the president and governors in the matters and making the tweaks subject to the Constitution.

Section 57-1 previously read: “The President shall announce the date or dates of the general elections after consultation with the [Election] Commission [of Pakistan].”

Now after the amendment of this section, the power to announce the polls date will solely lie with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), excluding the role of the president and governors.

The objective of the amendment was to authorise the ECP as the sole body to announce the date for the general elections.

As for section 58, it earlier stated: “The Commission may, at any time after the issue of the notification under sub-section (1) of that section [57-1], make such alterations in the Election Programme announced in that notification for the different stages of the election or may issue a fresh Election Programme as may, in its opinion to be recorded in writing, be necessary for the purposes of this Act: Provided that the Commission shall inform the President about any alteration in the Election Programme made under this sub-section.”

Now with the proposed amendment to this section introduced, it has strengthened the role of the commission and allow it to announce the schedule without anyone’s “interference”.

The amendment was aimed at removing the ambiguity in the change of election programme or the issuance of a new one.

Now, the ECP will be able to change the polls programme at various stages and give a new elections date and new schedule with written reasons.

After the dissolution of the National Assembly or elections in the entire country, the electoral watchdog had to consult with the president for the date of the fresh polls. With the fresh amendment, it will no longer require to do this.

Similarly in the case of the dissolution of a provincial assembly, the electoral watchdog was required to consult with the respective governor for the new date for holding the polls.

After the introduction of the amendment, the ECP will not need to carry out this task either.

The finalised draft of electoral law carrying the new amendments will be presented at the next cabinet meeting.

Last month, the commission had prepared an amendment draft to send to the parliamentary affairs secretary and also sent him a letter mentioning the reasons behind the changes.

According to the text of the letter written by the ECP secretary, the commission was an autonomous body as well as responsible for conducting fair and transparent elections.

It added that the mandate of the ECP to conduct elections should not be subordinated to anyone.

According to the Constitution, it pointed out that the commission had to decide whether the circumstances were fit to hold the elections or not.

It complained that the recent judgments of the Supreme Court had deprived the commission of exercising the powers enumerated in Article 218-3.

The letter added that according to Article 218-3, the ECP had to review the circumstances first and then decide to hold the elections.

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