FAFEN Urges Publication of ROs’ Scrutiny Decisions to Strengthen Transparency

ISLAMABAD, January 1, 2024: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) urges the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to publish the decisions of the Returning Officers (ROs) regarding objections to nomination of candidates and rejections of nomination papers on its website, which will contribute towards a more informed discourse and strengthen electoral transparency.

Section 62 (11) of the Elections Act, 2017 requires the ROs to endorse their decision on each nomination paper, either accepting or rejecting it, and in the case of rejection or objection to acceptance, record brief reasons for their decisions. Although the Elections Act, 2017 does not contain any specific provisions that warrant publication of such decisions, FAFEN believes that the Section 4(3) of the Act empowers the Commission with expansive authority to undertake any measures necessary to fulfill its constitutional mandate of conducting elections honestly, justly, fairly, and in accordance with the law, while safeguarding against corrupt practices. The Commission may invoke this authority to upload such decisions on its website, which will also help quell any disinformation and misinformation on the matter.

According to the ECP statistics, the ROs have rejected nomination papers of around 12.4 percent candidates for the upcoming General Elections during the scrutiny process, which is slightly higher than General Elections (GE) 2018, but lower than GE-2013. In the General Elections of 2018 and 2013, 10.4 percent and 14.6 percent of nomination papers were rejected during the scrutiny process, respectively.

By sharing ROs’ decisions, the ECP will empower citizens to comprehend the reasons behind these decisions, and encourage informed opinions about the electoral process. This measure will not only reinforce the transparency of the electoral process, but also serve as a safeguard to its credibility against the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation that often stems from incomplete information.

As per Section 62(9) of the Elections Act 2017, the ROs may reject the nomination papers for defects in a candidate’s qualifications to be a Member of the National or Provincial Assembly; defects in qualifications of proposer or seconder to subscribe to nomination papers; material deficiencies or falsehood in declarations and documents required to be submitted with the nomination papers; or ungenuine signatures of the proposer or seconder.

However, the ROs cannot reject nomination papers for defects that are not of a substantial nature, and may allow any such defects to be remedied forthwith, including an error in regard to the name, serial number in the electoral roll or other particulars of the candidate or their proposers or seconders so as to bring them in conformity with the corresponding entries in the electoral roll. The ECP needs to look into whether these provisions have strictly been complied with. In case of non-compliance, the ECP may use its powers under Section 55 to proceed against the officials concerned. Moreover, the ECP may also review an order passed by an officer under the Act or the Rules, as provided in Section 8(e) of the Elections Act.

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