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If solutions are to be subjected to long procedural delays, they are bound to prove useless.

The second most important area where the ECP needs to be empowered is its control over
the civil administration. It needs the services of an army of government employees to
perform duties at the polling station level. It needs to wean these seconded personnel off
any political affiliations, guard them against threats of violence from vested interest
groups, check any negligence on their part and make them work efficiently.
Developing other stakes in civil administration is important as peace and order in society
are a prerequisite for elections. The ECP also needs the support of all government
departments, including the law-enforcement agencies to ensure that the Code of Conduct
for pre-election campaigns is strictly followed, that voters are not bribed or coerced, and
that there is a level playing field for all contestants.
The ECP has not been able to ensure all of this to the satisfaction of the parties. One
likely reason is that this area too is contested by two constitutional bodies, the ECP and
the caretaker government. They are both entrusted with the same responsibility of
ensuring neutrality in government. This duplication not only creates confusion but also
works as a disincentive for the ECP to take the initiative, besides allowing the two to
blame failures on each other.
Interim set-ups have traditionally served as a constitutional window for the establishment
to intervene in the electoral process. The system of appointment was changed
substantially through the 18th Amendment but caretaker set-ups too have failed to meet
expectations.
The ECP thus needs a new legal framework for its engagement with the civil
administration. There is no harm in taking a leaf from the Indian experience where no
caretakers are appointed and the election commission virtually takes over the entire state
machinery, as soon as the election process begins and until the results are announced.
The Electoral Reforms Committee will have to avoid indulging in rephrasing old laws
and show some creativity. Readers should be reminded that Pakistan achieved an
important milestone in its first-ever democratic transition, from one elected government
to the next, in 2013. The subsequent milestone should not be the next transition but
electoral reforms as only these can take polls and democracy a qualitative step forward.
The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2014
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