Election experts say that the ECP’s proposed amendments to the Election Rules 2017, as outlined by the electoral body on Saturday, are a necessary step and are in keeping with the ECP’s powers under the Election Act, 2017.

Analyst Aasiya Riaz says that Election Rules “are made following each law or amendment. Since changes were made to the Elections Act just before the 15th National Assembly was dissolved, the ECP had to amend rules. That part is normal.” She adds that, “Generally, rules don’t, or can’t, go beyond the letter of the law. Rules simply describe procedures in detail.”

PILDAT President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob clarifies that the ECP is authorized by the Election Act, 2017 to make these rules. He echoes Riaz’s analysis that “The current ‘Election Rules 2017’ were framed after the Elections Act, 2017 was passed. Amendments in rules usually follow the changes in the laws or framing of new laws relating to elections as a matter of routine. Since several sections of the Elections Act, 2017 were amended in the past few months, the amendments in the rules were warranted. Rules are not independent legislation; they merely provide details of a law passed by parliament. The scope of a rule has to be confined to the limits of the law.”

For Director Programs at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), Muddassir Rizvi, these amendments are not significant “but necessary.” Repeating Mehboob and Riaz’s points, he says that “to operationalize the amendments in the Election Act, this had to be done.” Rizvi explains that “the practice internationally is that organizations such as election commissions make their own rules per the law.” Defining the Election Rules, he tells The News that “they essentially explain the details and operational part of what the Election Act says.” The legal point of view on this, per Rizvi, is that when “Section 239 in the Election Act was added, the ECP became empowered to make its own rules.” “This is secondary legislation,” he adds. [For context, Section 239 of the Election Act, 2017 says that the ECP “may, by notification in the official gazette and publication on the website of the Commission, make rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act.”

Rizvi says that once the ECP makes the rules it has to “publish them and take people’s views and then notify them.” An added caveat is that “before this, the Representation of the People Act had outlined that the ECP’s rules were subject to approval by the president. This is no longer the case after Section 239 of the Election Act.” Is there any chance that political parties would object to the changes to the Election Rules? According to Aasiya Riaz, “How parties respond to these rules will need to be seen. The financial accounting part seems okay. For the rest, one really has to ponder over and see whether something compromises election credibility.”

Rizvi is of the opinion that “political parties shouldn’t have any issue with the rules since they had approved the Election Act itself.” Head of Geo’s Election Cell, Nadia Malik, finds “nothing offensive or unsavory in the amended rules as such. For example, one of the proposed amendments is that the RO will open the packet of ballot papers that have not been counted by the presiding officers. In the last election [2018], questions had been raised — especially in areas that had very little margin of victory — over how the rejected votes were more in number than the margin of victory itself. So this does introduce transparency into the process.”

Looking at another proposed amendment, Malik says that “As far as the rule explaining the expenditure of candidates is concerned, it is a good thing, but I’m not sure how much this would make a difference since candidates always feign ignorance over election spending, usually making excuses that someone — a worker or a supporter — did the many tasks associated with an election campaign. I’m not sure how the ECP will be able to keep a check on these matters.” On political parties having any objections, Malik explains that the ECP has “given a 15-day window [by October 7] for anyone to raise objections. If political parties have any objections, they can raise them by then.” Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad says that “most of the rules made by the ECP are the same as those in 2008: when we had similar laws, rules, and procedures.” He also brings up the Representation of the People Act, saying that “In those days, the biggest obstacle to making rules [by the ECP] was the fact that under Rule 3 of the Representation of the People Act, the president had to give approval to the rule to be notified or amended. But the Election Act, 2017 gave this right [to make rules, amend rules] solely to the ECP.” Dilshad is optimistic that “these rules will make it more difficult for political parties to indulge in corrupt practices. One of the more significant rules is that in the course of an election campaign if a candidate’s supporter has run the campaign in any way, then their spending too will be counted in the candidate’s expenditure list.”

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