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ECP to conduct online scrutiny of candidates in upcoming elections, what about Election Act 2017 obstructions

It might sound pleasantly interesting that the Election Commission of Pakistan will be able to filter the candidates with the help of the software, but the political elite of the country has already devised a mechanism to get off the hook and detour extensive scrutiny.

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The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has instructed the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to devise a special software for online scrutiny of nomination papers to be filed by candidates, ahead of the upcoming general elections. The orders were issued to Nadra during a meeting, presided over by the Chief Election Commissioner, Sardar Mohammad Raza.

According to the ECP spokesperson, the special software will link the election regulator with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the State Bank of Pakistan, to have a complete profile of the aspiring lawmakers. Nadra will be completing the family trees of the election candidates and after finalizing the software, will seek permission from the ECP for its usage.

Moreover, the returning officers (ROs) will be able to access it after the verification of the data. The creation of the software might only be the digitalization of records available already but the induction of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in the process is for the first time. During the crucial meeting today, the election commission’s Director General Information Technology informed that during the 2013 polls, 26,000 candidates had submitted their nomination papers but only 16,000 were approved.

The only liberty available to the ECP, after the promulgation of the Election Act 2017, is when a candidate challenges the nomination papers of his rival, the returning officer can scan and look at the financial wrongdoings of the aspiring lawmaker.

With the previous statistics in mind, the official continued that up to 30,000 candidates are expected to file their nomination papers for the 2018 elections. The idea to create a central automated online system for scrutinizing nomination papers is not new for the next electoral tussle. It was also proposed in the 2013 elections, however, the idea was not executed due to reasons, unknown to many. The proposed software of ECP is not a run off the mill exercise as it will screen out tax evaders, loan defaulters and beneficiaries of written-off loans as well as convicts.

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The incorporation of FIA in the exercise might prompt the political leaders to cast aspirations over the transparency of the upcoming elections because the body is under the influence of the federal government. However, FIA is also one of the most effective institutes when it comes to the scrutiny of individuals on the basis of their financial wrongdoings. The Federal Interior Minister – currently Ahsan Iqbal – controls the agency but after the caretaker set up takes charge, the state institution will become autonomous, to a larger extent.

The efficiency of the officials related to the agency can be gauged from the example of the Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team, which was headed by Wajid Zia, who serves as the Assistant Director of FIA, and furnished meticulous details about the wheeling and dealing of the Sharif family. The Supreme Court of Pakistan sporadically entrusts the agency with investigative reports on several matters.

A few of the cases, in which the FIA was directly engaged by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, include the Axact Fake Degrees Case, Spurious Drugs case, Hussain Haqqani case, Rao Anwar’s case and the PIA plane deal (to name a few). The FIA also engages with Interpol to issue red warrants against any accused, thus it is one of the most robust institutes of the country when it comes to investigations related to white-collar crimes. Besides FIA, the input of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is also important in this exercise, because the organization maintains a record of tax filed by the countrymen.

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The Election Commission of Pakistan, without asking the candidate to furnish his tax records can simply incorporate and integrate the FBR data to compare the tax statements and the living standard of aspiring legislators. The official data included in the software will also eliminate the apprehensions of fake documents submitted by the candidates. Moreover, the dedicated software will also integrate the data provided by the State Bank of Pakistan to screen loan defaulters.

During the crucial meeting today, the election commission’s Director General Information Technology informed that during the 2013 polls, 26,000 candidates had submitted their nomination papers but only 16,000 were approved.

The issue of defaulting loans is already inflicting damage on the national exchequer. Rana Muhammad Afzal, the State Minister for Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs, has recently informed the National Assembly that over 50,000 cases of loan defaulters are pending before various courts in the country. Out of the 50,000 cases, several are expected to apply for different provincial and National Assembly seats and an updated data will help the election regulator, to accept or reject the nomination papers.

ECP’s Software and Obstacles Ahead

It might sound pleasantly interesting that the Election Commission of Pakistan will be able to filter the candidates with the help of the software, but the political elite of the country has already devised a mechanism to get off the hook and detour extensive scrutiny.

Read more: ECP probes horse trading: need for discipline or reform?

According to the Election Act 2017, the nomination papers required to be filled by the candidates are devoid of provisions dealing with the taxes paid by the candidates. Moreover, the State Bank of Pakistan might be providing the data of written off loans which the Election Act 2017 has rendered useless because the bank loan defaulters can still contest elections in line with the injunctions passed in Election Act.

The only liberty available to the ECP, after the promulgation of the Election Act 2017, is when a candidate challenges the nomination papers of his rival, the returning officer can scan and look at the financial wrongdoings of the aspiring lawmaker.

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