The most important ingredient of democracy is the electoral exercise in which people surrender their will to their chosen representatives providing them an opportunity of deliverance in a given time frame. Though the delivery period of governance has a mechanism of accountability through formal state institutions, however, performance appraisal of the elected representatives is also carried out to make them accountable to the people through an electoral exercise to complete the democratic cycle. In other words, the edifice of democracy is raised on the foundations of elections which must be free and fair so that will of the people is exercised by their true representatives.
In Pakistan, the primary institution responsible for carrying out elections is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) constituted under Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. It is headed by a Chief Election Commissioner and comprises four members, one each from all the four provinces. They are appointed by a twelve-member Parliamentary Committee with equal representation from the government and opposition. The Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of Opposition sends three names for each slot to the Parliamentary Committee for finalization which are then formally appointed by the President for a five year term.
The Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members are the core functionaries to conduct elections in Pakistan. With a history of disputed electoral results in Pakistan, the wrath of an alleged unfair election has ultimately fallen on ECP and its Members and strengthening it is a major part of the proposed electoral reforms. The structural issues of ECP including lack of resources, autonomy and authority to carry out free and fair election and to make accountable those hindering a free and fair electoral process have been major impediments to achieve its objectives and are being duly addressed in the electoral reforms. However, the credibility of electoral exercise also greatly depends upon the integrity of Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members. Though the process of appointment of Chief Election Commissioner and Commission Members are prima facie quite democratic, but still the same failed to ensure credibility to the elections and general election-2013 is the latest example which led to a political turmoil in Pakistan. The process, therefore, needs to be reviewed to enhance the acceptability of elections but is not being addressed in the electoral reforms.
Having half of the representation in the twelve-member Parliamentary Committee, the government needs just a single member for majority to make appointments of its own choice which is quite easy. Though some political theorists are of the opinion that government has the right for administrative appointments but others opine that the appointments in an electoral body should not be treated in the same manner. Requiring a higher level of neutrality to conduct an electoral exercise, the institution responsible for it has, therefore, been historically manned by judiciary in most of the democratic setups. The very act of revision of eligibility criteria in 22nd Amendment by making eligible retired civil servants and technocrats is against this spirit. There is a strong opinion that political parties being the most important stakeholders in an election should have no or minimal role in the appointment of electoral body. They should be from the judiciary with an institutionalized mechanism to fill the vacant slot of Chairman with the most recently retired Chief Justice or in case of his non-availability, senior most retired Judge of the Supreme Court. Similarly, the slot of Member from each province should be filled with the most recently retired Chief Justice or in the case of his non-availability, the senior most retired Judge of the concerned High Court. The spirit of this proposal is to devise a mode of appointment wherein the discretion of nominations by the government is eliminated. If it is incorporated and approved in the electoral reforms bill, it may enhance the credibility of ECP as well as of the elections carried out by it leading to restoration of trust of the people in electoral process and ultimately strengthen democracy.