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Proposal to curb practice of stopping women from voting

By: Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The draft of new election law prepared by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) proposes to expand the scope of the offence of ‘undue influence’ to include reaching an agreement to restrain women from contesting an election or exercising their right to vote.

It calls for empowering the commission to declare the poll void partly or entirely if it finds that women were stopped from voting under an agreement or other grave illegalities have taken place. The ECP may order filing of a complaint in a court of competent jurisdiction against persons reaching such an agreement.

This provision is not there in the current election law.

Capturing polling stations may be defined as ‘corrupt practice’
An amendment has been proposed in the law which if passed by parliament will reduce punishment for the offence of capturing polling stations.

The draft also seeks to widen the definition of corrupt practices to include capturing of polling stations and tampering with ballot papers. Earlier these were confined to bribery, impersonation, undue influence and dissemination of false information affecting the result of an election. But the proposed law will relax the minimum sentence of three-year imprisonment prescribed in the existing law for the offence.

Under Section 82 of the Representation of People Act, 1976, a person guilty of this offence is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three years or a fine of up to Rs5,000 or both. But a more stringent sentence has been prescribed under Section 82A for capturing polling stations which specifically mentions ‘not less than three years imprisonment’ extendable to five years, and a fine of not less than Rs50,000 and extendable to Rs100,000.

Under the proposed amendment, seizing a polling station would be dealt with as a corrupt practice and the guilty will be punishable with an imprisonment to the extent of three years or a fine of up to Rs100,000 or both.

Legal experts are of the opinion that a law envisaging maximum sentence without specifying the minimum will leave the matter to the discretion of the judge concerned.

“If a law prescribed imprisonment of up to three years, the judge can jail the accused for a month, a day or even fraction of a day,” Advocate Asad Siddiqui told Dawn.

The draft law proposes to take away the president’s discretionary power of announcing a date for general elections and makes consultation a mandatory requirement.

A four-fold increase has been proposed in election expenditures to Rs6 million for a National Assembly seat and Rs4m for provincial assembly.

The draft law proposes to eliminate ghost polling stations. Under the new procedure, soon after the appointment of district returning officers and returning officers the commission will provide a list of polling stations to the returning officer concerned.

After physical verification of polling stations, the returning officer will be empowered to make alterations in the list as he deems necessary and publish it for public inspection, inviting objections from the electors to be filed with the district returning officer.

The final list of polling stations, specifying the electoral area of voters entitled to vote in each polling station, is required to be published in the official gazette at least 30 days prior to the polling day.

To discourage non-serious candidates, the security deposit is proposed to be increased from Rs4,000 to Rs50,000 for a National Assembly seat and from Rs2,000 to Rs25,000 for a provincial assembly seat. The deposit shall not be refunded if a candidate receives less than one fourth of the total votes cast.

Under the proposed law, secretaries of union councils will be required to submit lists of birth and deaths to the registration officer concerned to help keep the electoral rolls updated.