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Monday May 20, 2024

Allegations galore

Commissioner Rawalpindi Division Liaqat Ali Chatha who on Saturday resigned from his post in protest against electoral irregularities

By Editorial Board
February 18, 2024
Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha speaks at a press conference at his office in the city on February 17, 2024. — Online
 Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha speaks at a press conference at his office in the city on February 17, 2024. — Online  

The controversy around Election 2024 refuses to die down. If it’s not the PTI with its press conferences or the GDA with its protests, now it’s Commissioner Rawalpindi Division Liaqat Ali Chatha who on Saturday resigned from his post in protest against electoral irregularities. The commissioner has – in a bit of a bizarre twist – blamed the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for what he says was rampant rigging in Rawalpindi. The ECP has rejected the claims made by the Rawalpindi commissioner, stating that no official of the commission gave any direction to him regarding the manipulation of results, though the ECP has said it will be conducting an inquiry into the matter as soon as possible. Meanwhile, CJP Qazi Faez Isa has asked Liaqat Ali Chatha to present evidence to back his allegations against the top judge’s involvement in the rigging of the February 8 elections. Meanwhile, the caretaker Punjab government has rejected the allegation of rigging by the senior official and alluded to him having mental health issues, something that PML-N senior leader Rana Sanaullah has also claimed. Other PML-N leaders have said the Rawalpindi commissioner should be punished if he fails to prove these allegations.

Everything said by the commissioner and subsequently by politicians points to only one thing that needs to be done: the commissioner’s allegations must be probed like other rigging allegations regarding this election. However, every such allegation must be backed by proper evidence. It is simply not enough for a person to come on TV, make claims about other individuals, and then expect to not be asked for proper evidence regarding such claims. In a country that has already faced so much political uncertainty in the past few years, disinformation and fake news can have serious consequences. Nobody should be allowed to just make stories and expect people to fall for it without an iota of evidence. It is now extremely important for the government and ECP to conduct an impartial inquiry into these allegations. With every sane mind in the country now urging reconciliation among all political stakeholders, one hopes all parties will take this advice seriously. This is especially so as the PTI has started a series of protests across the country.

On Saturday, in an unfortunate display of intolerance, the caretaker government in Punjab arrested prominent lawyer and PTI leader Salman Akram Raja during a protest. Do we really think such measures will help the situation? We must urge restraint on all ends right now. If the people feel cheated of their mandate, let them protest. Likewise, protest must remain within the confines of peace and law and order. We have seen May 9, 2023, and the consequences faced by the PTI and its workers. We don’t need another May 9. We don’t need anarchy either. Analysts are warning that if political parties don’t get their act together and settle the issue of government formation, the risks are far too great. PML-N leaders have been saying that the PTI and PPP should form the government and their party should refrain while the PTI says it will sit in the opposition but at the same time wants its ‘mandate’ to be returned. Responsible leadership is needed at the moment instead of those who are only interested in adding to the hysteria. Peaceful protest is the right of every single individual. Let the people protest. But this right does not transcend into allowing false news or disinformation to disrupt the political process. That too needs to be kept in check. We are currently living through one of the most challenging times in our history. A heady mix of populism and propaganda has meant that information – even if incorrect – has become prime currency. A break is needed – for this country and its people.