ECP’s choice: None to vote for

For the first time, voters would get the choice of not voting for any of the candidates in the fray for the May 11 general elections. The decision to include the ‘none of the above’ option in ballot papers was made at a meeting of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim on Wednesday.

A blank slot will be included in ballots along with the names of candidates in every constituency, ECP officials told the media. If 51 per cent of voters of any constituency opt for the blank slot, a re-election will be held there, they said.

It has been decided that these empty boxes will be included in the papers after an approval from the prime minister who will advise the president for an ordinance, as per the 18th amendment.

The commission said that the president has two weeks to approve this motion and that the list of final candidates will be in by April 19. Last year a discussion about whether the ‘none of the above’ option would be included was addressed and discussed at the ECP but no legislation was carried out for it.

Last month the election commission exercised its authority in the light of Article 218 (3) to have the amended nomination papers for the general elections printed without seeking approval from the president, but the electoral body now says it requires a Presidential Ordinance for the inclusion of the column in the ballot papers.

“It shall be the duty of the election commission to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against,” Article 218 (3) states.

The meeting chaired by the Chief Election Commissioner also discussed proposals for monitoring of sensitive polling stations through satellite surveillance with the help of SUPARCO (Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) and maintaining computerised record of sensitive polling stations with technical assistance from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Ministry of Information Technology.

In another move, the election commission has summoned tomorrow (Friday) the 24 fake degree holding ex-lawmakers it had once cleared despite their degrees been declared as bogus by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), of the total 54. The commission has also asked 189 former parliamentarians holding unverified degrees to have their educational certificates verified by Friday.

Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court had ordered the electoral body to move, by April 5, against those lawmakers whose degrees had turned out to be fake and the district courts concerned had convicted them. The court had also directed the 189 former parliamentarians holding unverified degree to have their degrees verified by the prescribed date.

Of the 24 ex-MPs, who have been now summoned, Molvi Obaiudllah, Gulistan Khan and Wali Muhammad Badini have died. The other 24 are: Seemal Kamran, Shumaila Rana, Shabina Khan, Rubina Irfan, Samina Khawar Hayat, Rehana Yahya Baloch, Israrullah Khan Zehri, Nawabzada Tariq Magsi, Nawabzada Mir Nadir Magsi, Mir Mohabat Khan Mari, Shafiq Ahmed Gujjar, Gul Muhammad Lot, Syed Ameer Ali Shah Jamot, Ghulam Sarwar Sial, Lt Col (r) Shujaat Ahmed, Mukhesh Kumar, Bashir Ahmed Khan, Nawabzada Muhammad Akbar, Dr Israr Hussain, Haji Omer Gorgaje, Rana Ejaz Ahmed Noon, Dewan Syed Ashiq Hussain, Petamber Sewani and Wasim Afzal Gondal.

Briefing the media, ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan said the ECP had sent the cases of all 1,170 former MPs to the HEC for verification in 2010. The HEC detected 69 cases of fake degrees. Of these, FIRs were registered against 34 MPs, he said, admitting that 27 cases were closed.

The matriculation or intermediate certificates of some 250 former parliamentarians were not received, he said, adding that a special cell for degrees’ verification was operational now at the HEC. He also told that Nadra has developed software for overseas voting. The AGP and Nadra chairman would hold a consultative meeting with the ECP on Tuesday in this regard, he informed.

Meanwhile, the ECP has completed the printing of 48,416,413 electoral rolls (voter lists) that do not carry the voters’ pictures. The printing of ERs with the voters’ pictures would start from the next week. Moreover, the electoral body has confirmed receiving around 18,000 nomination papers for the elections, of which, around 13,000 have been scrutinised and over 5,000 have been uploaded on the ECP website.

The scrutiny of former PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s nomination papers has been stopped because he has yet to pay his electricity and gas bills. He has been asked to clear his arrears by Sunday and inform the authorities.

The ECP’s desire to have ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot papers may be perceived by the political parties with much caution as how many votes ‘none’ would get, remains anybody’s guess given the dissatisfaction of the people due to high inflation and poor law and order during the last five-year rule.