Civil servants to serve as ROs for the first time since 1970s.
Local government elections are a gigantic administrative task. Thousands of workers are required to assist election authorities during the polls. Typically, the help arrives from public sector organisations.
For the upcoming LG elections in Punjab and Sindh, a total of 610,654 officers from different government departments will be deputed through the ECP. The figure does not include thousands of policemen, Rangers and other law enforcers deployed for security duties. Neither does it include those involved in the printing of ballot papers, ECP-appointed election monitors or those performing related duties.
If all these figures are added up, ECP officials believe the total number of people involved in the entire process for the two provinces will safely cross the million mark.
According to a working paper of the election authority, Punjab’s 36 districts will go to the polls in three phases, and 430,833 officers will perform election duties. There will be 36 district retuning officers, 777 returning officers and 1,554 assistant returning officers. These officials have already been assigned their duties.
The ECP will depute 38,466 presiding officers, 260,000 assistant presiding officers and 130,000 polling officers for the entire exercise across the province.
LG elections in Sindh are not simple either. There will be 179,821 government officers to conduct polls. Among them will be 29 district returning officers, 316 returning officers, 551 assistant returning officers, 16,601 presiding officers, 108,216 assistant presiding officers and 54,108 polling officers.
Once ECP delegates powers to government officials on election duties, the real issue becomes their impartiality. With the polling date for the first phase more than two weeks away, ECP has been flooded with complaints on the alleged bias of returning officers in Punjab and Sindh.
After the lower judiciary’s returning officers were maligned for their role in alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections, the top judiciary has declined to spare its officers for election processes.
Lack of training
Civil servants will be supervising polls as returning officers for the first time since 1970s. The bulk of district returning officers and returning officers for the LG polls come from the District Administration Group. Lack of training and awareness about election laws will also be the major problems facing the field staff.
Since there is no permanent pool of officers specifically for election duties, new lists of government officers are prepared every time an election is held. These workers are supposed to get training for two days. But hardly any officer takes it seriously, and only a few actually turn up at the training sessions.
This time, however, the ECP has proposed a mandatory one-day training of presiding officers and assistant presiding officers. Moreover, a 45-minute video documentary on the election process has been prepared for the polling staff.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2015.