The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has called upon political parties to immediately initiate a comprehensive dialogue to address weaknesses in the existing legal electoral framework and ensure free and fair polls in Pakistan. “Unless the political parties set aside their differences for upholding democracy and protecting its integrity through free, fair, and transparent elections, the country will continue to be embroiled in political instability having adverse effects on the already-fragile economy,” the independent electoral watchdog said in a detailed statement on Friday. With only seven months left in the tenure of the incumbent National Assembly, FAFEN said it considers it to be an opportune time for parties to make necessary changes to the electoral framework that can guarantee free, fair, transparent, and inclusive elections. For the upcoming general elections to bring stability, the NGO proposed the formation of a cross-chamber multi-party parliamentary committee, similar to the one set up in 2014, with representation from the Senate and the National Assembly. “Despite political fragmentation at the time, the 2014 Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) was successful in developing a consensus on the reforms’ agenda, allowing the enactment of a unified election law,” it said. The Elections Act, 2017 provided for relatively more autonomy to the Election Commission of Pakistan and introduced reforms in election processes. The committee, however, stopped short of addressing critical systemic issues such as improving representativeness, curbing the role of money in politics, and the use of technology in elections, FAFEN observed. It said the election system in Pakistan was facing emerging challenges such as the increasing role of social media, which has opened up new avenues for the use of money in elections in the form of third-party financing of political campaigns including from sources prohibited by the law. Similarly, FAFEN said political parties need to decide on the modus operandi for facilitating voting by overseas Pakistanis, either through postal ballot or through the reservation of special seats for Pakistanis living abroad. “Equally important will be legal measures to bind the Election Commission to scrutinise election results before the notification of the winners as a prerequisite for the integrity of the election outcome as well as to minimise the post-election litigation,” it added. Initiating concrete measures for electoral reforms would be in consonance with the undertaking by the leaders of the incumbent coalition government in the Supreme Court during the hearing on the suo moto notice against the National Assembly Deputy Speaker’s ruling on the resolution of no-confidence against the former Prime Minister and the subsequent dissolution of the National Assembly, the NGO noted. On April 7 last year, the PML-N and PPP leadership committed before the apex court that they would introduce electoral reforms ahead of the general elections. “However, the government has not introduced any tangible reform package in the Parliament except the legislation restoring the original provisions of the Elections Act, 2017 regarding overseas voting (Section 94) and electronic voting machines (Section 103).” The elections watchdog observed that dialogue would help reduce political tensions in the country and ensure the conduct of peaceful elections.