Pakistan election commission plans democracy reforms
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's election commission intends to launch sweeping reforms for the first time, said one of its officials on Monday, to promote democracy and ease political turmoil.
The United States wants political stability in nuclear-armed ally Pakistan so it can help fight militancy and protect American interests in the region.
Under the changes reached after consultations with groups such as political parties and the media, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) hopes to bring about greater transparency and prevent any rigging, said joint secretary Muhammad Afzal.
"This is designed to promote democracy and stability," he told Reuters.
Afzal said the commission wants to avoid problems like ballot stuffing and ensure opposition parties have nothing to complain about. He described the changes as ground-breaking.
The reforms may help create a stable political environment that will make it easier for Pakistani leaders to fight homegrown militants.
Pakistan is due to hold its next general election in 2013.
The commission will act on a recently passed constitutional amendment that will change the mechanism for appointing the chief of the ECP and members of the commission.
Under the new system, the chief of the ECP will be appointed at the recommendation of a parliamentary committee comprised of members from the ruling coalition and opposition. In the past, the president directly appointed the chairman and members.
Under a strategic plan, the ECP will pursue legal and constitutional reforms to strengthen the electoral process to remove "discrepancies".
It also aims to ensure comprehensive voter registration and credible and accurate electoral rolls.
In the lead up to 2008 elections, Human Rights Watch accused the Election Commission of failing to act on allegations of irregularities including arrests and harassment of opposition candidates and party members.
Parliament recently passed constitutional amendments stripping President Asif Ali Zardari of his main powers and handing them to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and parliament.
The reforms should go some way to disarming Zardari's many critics and contribute to political stability.