Bill making CNIC mandatory for voting adopted
By Amir Wasim
ISLAMABAD: The Senate unanimously passed a government bill on Tuesday to make possession of a computerised national identity card (CNIC) mandatory for voting in elections.
The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2011, which must be passed also by the National Assembly to become a law, empowers the Election Commission of Pakistan, and not merely the chief election commissioner (CEC), to make decisions on a number of issues relating to votersÂ’ registration and the voting process.
It amends various sections of two basic laws — the Electoral Rolls Act 1974 and the Representation of the People Act 1976 – dealing with the election procedure in the country.
Under a new section of the approved law, an ECP employee will face imprisonment of up to five years or a fine up to Rs5 million, or both, for an unauthorised disclosure of secret information or data.
It was the prerogative of the CEC hitherto to issue directives before every election about the process of checking of voters’ identity and, in the absence of proper law, there have often been complaints from stakeholders about non-compliance of the directives in certain places, making the election process suspicious.
In the previous general elections in Feb 2008, the CEC had allowed voters to cast votes either by showing the CNIC issued by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) or the old ones issued by the government. Independent observers had reported a few incidents where the election staff allowed voters to cast their votes even without showing their identity cards.
Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan managed to get the bill passed unanimously, but not before facing an embarrassing situation when he failed to give a satisfactory reply to opposition leader Wasim Sajjad’s query about the government’s failure to appoint members of the ECP in accordance with the 18th Amendment.
At one point, when the minister said the provinces had not provided names of their respective members for the ECP, Senate Chairman Farooq Naek interrupted to remind him that after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the provinces were not required to give names and it was the prime minister’s job to suggest names of members to a parliamentary committee after consultation with the opposition leader and read out the relevant clause of the Constitution.
Mr Awan later said the government was not responsible for the delay in the formation of the ECP and it was the responsibility of the parliamentary committee to finalise the names. When the chairman asked why the committee had not so far been constituted, the minister held the opposition responsible.
The government had nominated some members of the coalition parties for the committee, but later they quit the treasury benches and joined the opposition. It was because of this imbalance, he said, the committee had to be reconstituted.
Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Raza Rabbani suggested that the National Assembly Speaker be approached for an early meeting of the committee and, in the meantime, the prime minister begin the consultation process for nomination of ECP members.
Taking part in a brief debate on the bill, the opposition leader urged the government to take steps to correct the voters’ list that, he said, contained names of aliens, and ensure that every eligible voter was registered and possessed a CNIC before the elections.
Mr Sajjad said he expected the next elections to be held next year, a year before the completion on the present government’s five-year term.
This stirred a light-hearted exchange with the law minister, who remarked the opposition leader was perhaps talking about local government elections as general elections would be held in 2013 after the present National Assembly completed its term.