A meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs was held at the Parliament House under the chairmanship of Senator Taj Haider.
Apart from the members of the Senate, the meeting was attended by the Secretary of Parliamentary Affairs and the Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The Chairman of the Committee welcomed all the members, and the committee was given a detailed section-wise briefing on ‘The Election Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017’ as passed by the National Assembly.
The Secretary of Parliamentary Affairs gave the committee a detailed briefing about the various provisions of The Election Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017, and informed it that the commission would order elections within 30 days (instead of 60) on any major peculiarity according to the proposed amendment.
The Secretary added that the transgression of the code of conduct in the amendment bill may be objected to before the polling day. In response, Senator Farooq Hamid Naek suggested the lodging of a complaint up to seven days before the polling day.
The Secretary stated that under the proposed amendments, a CNIC holder may be registered as a voter in the area of their permanent or temporary address within the jurisdiction of the NADRA office from where they had obtained their CNIC.
Senator Naek objected to the proposed amendment and said that this section must be seen in a way that the Constitution is not being violated.
The Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs told the committee that progress can only be made through technology, and assured the committee that no unconstitutional amendment would be made to the bill.
During the briefing, the Secretary of Parliamentary Affairs stated that the NADRA would submit the list to the Election Commission after the registration of the votes.
Senator Sania Nishtar observed that it would be important to understand the purpose of the amendment to empower the NADRA regarding voter registration. Senator Naek stressed that it is not just one amendment, and the purpose of all the amendments needs to be understood.
The Minister of State, Ali Muhammad Khan, replied to a question by the committee members, and stated that The Election Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017 had been drafted by the Minister of Law, Farogh Naseem, and the former Minister for Parliamentary, Azam Khan Swati.
While speaking about the proposed powers of the District Registration Office (DRO), Senator Naek maintained that the fewer the powers given to the DRO regarding the polling scheme are, the better the Election Commission will be. He added that the District Election Commissioner could easily influence the election process.
The proposed amendments detailed that the fee for contesting elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies is being increased to Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 30,000, and this was opposed by some members. The Chairman of the Committee suggested that the contesting fee not be increased. Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar pointed out that there is no fee for the contesting of elections in some countries and no one’s right should be affected by the increase of the fee.
The Secretary of Parliamentary Affairs said during the briefing that if the winning candidate does not take the oath within 60 days, the seat would be considered vacant.
Senator Afnanullah Khan and Senator Nishtar objected and asked what would happen to the candidate who falls sick after winning the election. Senator Naek suggested that the word ‘willfully’ be included in the relevant clause. It was also suggested that two instead of one polling agent be appointed for a candidate during the counting of the ballots.
The Secretary stated that a meeting with the Speaker of the National Assembly to discuss the Electoral Reforms had also been scheduled for later in the day, to which the Chairman of the Committee said that the committee’s recommendations should also be put before the relevant committee on electoral reforms.
The Chairman sought a detailed briefing on the Election Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017 by the Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan in the next meeting.
Senator Falak Naz, Senator Liaqat Khan Tarakai, Senator Sania Nishtar, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Senator Farooq Hamid Naek, Senator Prof. Sajid Mir, and Senator Azam Nazir Tarar attended the meeting. Senator Afnanullah Khan attended as a special invitee in the committee, and the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, and other officials of the Election Commission were also among the attendees.