Saturday October 16, 2021

Govt, ECP on collision course

Fawad Chaudhry, Azam Swati and Babar Awan accused the ECP of taking side with the opposition parties and taking bribes to rig elections

September 11, 2021


ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) are on a collision course after two federal ministers and an adviser accused the commission of becoming a mouthpiece of small opposition parties and taking bribes to rig elections.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry, Azam Swati and Babar Awan mounted a blistering attack on the Election Commission in a hurriedly called news conference.

Fawad accused the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja of acting as a mouthpiece for the small opposition parties. He emphasized that the PTI had the largest vote bank and if it did not have trust in the chief election commissioner, then how it could hold the elections.

“We request him to review his conduct and desist from becoming the mouthpiece of small opposition parties,” he remarked. The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan's government was the first which took up the task to make elections fair and transparent and gave recommendations for electoral reforms and took them to the parliament.

He claimed that no political stakeholder was satisfied with the current electoral system and said the opposition would allege rigging wherever they lost. He continued that the solution lay in the country's political leadership sitting together and deciding appropriate electoral process.

The minister contended that ‘the logic of ECP is strange; they say the parliament does not have the right to tell them what the system will be, even though the Constitution clearly states that the elections will be held in accordance with the law’. You (ECP) would not make the law, as the authority to legislate exclusively belongs to the parliament’.

The minister charged that not the entire ECP that was opposed to the government's proposals but the chief election commissioner was more interested in acting as a mouthpiece of the opposition.

He then turned his guns to the opposition and said unfortunately the opposition was made up of mental dwarfs and was unable to think beyond its cases. “These are small people and so is their thinking. No good can be expected from them; all the leadership of the opposition has only one skill — how to make history in cases. They do not understand that if the parliament is strong, then the people of the country will be strong,” he said.

“When it comes to reforms anywhere, the opposition leaves it behind and falls behind the deal. They are exposing each other themselves. Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Bilawal and then both together are listening to N-League; these are small people, their thinking is small. From them goodness cannot be expected,” he added.

He again said Prime Minister Imran Khan had always been a proponent of clean and transparent elections. Addressing the National Assembly formed after the 2013 elections, Imran had congratulated Nawaz Sharif on becoming the prime minister and said all parties were saying that the election was rigged.

He said Imran Khan had demanded that if the government did not want to open the entire election, then it should open four constituencies so that the cause of rigging could be exposed. He said no one paid attention to Imran Khan's speech which resulted in a major movement in the political history of Pakistan and the aim of this movement was to hold transparent, fair and constitutional elections.

This movement led to the establishment of a Judicial Commission headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk. The minister continued that Justice Nasirul Mulk listened to all the parties and then presented his recommendations.

His recommendations included that the procedure of transparent and fair elections was not 100% correct. He said the structure of the Election Commission was based on politics and people did not trust the Election Commission.

In the 2018 elections, the people expressed confidence in Imran Khan and he became the Prime Minister. “Our manifesto included that we would make the Election Commission free, fair and transparent. The PTI is the only party that has held free and fair elections while in government. We invited the opposition to come and sit with us and talk about electoral reforms,” he noted.

The minister said, “We want to use technology in the election process. The issue of Senate elections went to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Supreme Court asked to use technology to bring transparency in the elections”.

He said Article 218 of the Constitution stated that elections will be held under the law and the power to make laws lay with the parliament adding that no country will allow the dignity of its parliament to be tarnished because the real voice of the people came from the parliament.

“People sitting in parliament decide what kind of system they want to adopt. No one has the right to ignore the parliament. If the Election Commission has any objection to technology, or if they want to improve something, they should tell the parliament,” he said.

Fawad said if the chief election commissioner wanted to take part in politics, a right, which the law gives him, he should then leave the Election Commission and become a candidate himself, come to Parliament and play his role.

He said Imran Khan was the most popular leader in Pakistan and PTI was the biggest party. “If we are not satisfied with the Election Commission, then how will they hold elections? The chief election commissioner should act as the head of an institution,” he remarked.

The minister said the CEC might have personal sympathies for the PMLN supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif due to his close connections with the latter, saying the government had no problems with the same.

“But whether it is the chief election commissioner or any institution, they will have to function while accepting the parliament. No individual can be allowed to undermine the parliament,” he made it clear.

About the war of words in the Senate committee meeting, the minister said the behaviour of ECP officials was tantamount to rejecting the privilege of the parliament, adding that if the ECP had reservations about any technology, then it should stop playing media-media.

Earlier, before staging a walk-out during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, which rejected key government amendments to the Elections Act 2017, including use of EVMs and I-voting, Federal Minister Azam Swati lashed out at the Election Commission and accused it of always rigging polls.

He suggested that such institutions should be set on fire — a remark never heard of with regard to the constitutional body. It is pertinent to mention that the committee consists of a total of 14 members with four members from the PTI, three from the PPP, two from the PMLN, two independents, and one each from the BAP, the MQM-P and the JUI-P.

Before the committee voted on the proposed amendments, Swati came down hard on the ECP and alleged that the commission took bribes to rig polls. He went on to allege that the Election Commission was making fun of the government and also charged that it was not entitled to ruin democracy. Following his remarks, the ECP officials staged a walkout in protest.

During the meeting, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan clarified on 37 objections raised by the Election Commission and said the commission was not above the law and had to work within its ambit.

It may be recalled that the Election Commission had submitted a document on September 7 to the committee warning that the EVMs were prone to tampering and the software could be easily altered and it was nearly impossible to ensure that every machine was honest.

Responding to the ECP's reservations, Awan questioned the commission for delaying work on introducing the EVMs and asked ‘why do we feel threatened by the technology’. He contended that the government had also written a letter to the commission about the budget and security of EVMs, but didn't receive a response.

To this, the committee chairman emphasized the need to listen to the ECP's objections to the proposed amendments to the election laws. The committee, chaired by Senator Taj Haider also rejected the amendment, envisaging Senate elections through the open ballot.

On the heels of a heated discussion the other day on induction of BAP Senator Samina Mumtaz in the committee by the Senate chairman recently, Taj Haider gave his ruling in her favour. However, she was not present in the meeting but PTI Senator Walid Iqbal proposed that since Samina Mumtaz was unwell, she should be included for online voting.

To this, PPP Senator Farooq H Naek said the BAP senator was in Karachi and in the Parliament Lodges. Moreover, Senator Taj Haider said like in the past, the committee had not allowed online voting and still it could not, as this would set a wrong tradition.

Senator Naek said as voting was fixed for Friday meeting of the committee, consensus on the bills was not possible and therefore the bills would have to go to the joint sitting of the parliament.

When the committee chairman presented amendments for voting, Federal Minister for Railways Muhammad Azam Swati complained that since their member was not being given the right to vote, he walked out of the meeting. With him, all the six government senators and ministers stormed out of the meeting.

Meanwhile, the committee rejected the government amendments to the use of EVMs in the next general elections, to give overseas Pakistanis the right to I-voting, and to compile electoral rolls from the Nadra instead of the Election Commission as well as an amendment to hold the Senate elections by open ballot instead of secret ballot.

However, the amendment to the section relating to termination of seat of a member who has not taken oath within 60 days was not rejected. This amendment will be applicable after the next election.

The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020 was introduced in the National Assembly on Oct 16, 2020, and it was passed by the standing committee concerned on June 8 amid the opposition’s protest. The bill was adopted by the National Assembly on June 11 this year.

Meanwhile, soon after the federal ministers’ accusations, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja summoned a meeting on September 13. A source in the Election Commission confirmed that the CEC had summoned a meeting on Monday, as the ECP Member from Sindh Nisar Ahmad Durrani was not available on Friday.

The commission presently consists of three members, including chief election commissioner, ECP Member Balochistan Shah Muhammad Jatoi and Nisar Durrani. The forum would ponder over legal options with regard to the allegations leveled against the commission and chief election commissioner during the Senate Standing Committee meeting and afterwards in the news conference addressed by two federal ministers and an adviser to the PM.

Justice (R) Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi from Punjab and Justice (R) Irshad Qaiser from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have completed their five-year term as the ECP members and bowed out in the last week of July this year. As per the Constitution, the new members have to be appointed within 45 days from their date of retirement.

Meanwhile, PMLN President and Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the government for threatening the ECP in the Senate standing committee meeting. “This proves that this government has no answer to the objections raised over the technical and procedural workings of the EVMs,” he said.

In a statement, he said the government was left with threats over the EVM issue because they have no valid argument. “This government has stooped down to threats over elections after the opposition rejected the idea of EVMs,” he said.

He said the Election Commission had raised solid and clear objections [regarding technical and operational problems associated with the EVMs] and the government had no answer. He said the government bulldozed the legislation in the Parliament and on Friday the Election Commission representatives had to walk out over the attitude of the government representatives.

Shehbaz said the threat by ministers to set institutions on fire and send them to hell reflected terrorism and was highly condemnable. This, terrorizing and threatening, he said, was the nature of PTI.

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari congratulated the opposition members of the Senate standing committee for voting out the electronic voting law. “Congratulations to opposition members in the Senate who, despite government’s anti-democratic tactics, managed to thwart efforts to pass electronic voting law in parliamentary affairs committee of the Senate,” he tweeted.

He said the PPP will not let the government rig the next elections and condemned the government attack on the Election Commission of Pakistan. PMLN Central Vice President and Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Mian Hamza Shahbaz Sharif also condemned the PTI leaders for leveling allegations against the Election Commission of Pakistan.

In a statement, he leveling allegations against the Election Commission’s point of view over the EVMs was shameful for the government. He said the ECP was a constitutional body and accusing it of embezzling money was very inappropriate. “Instead of responding to the Election Commission and its legitimate objections with arguments, the government has resorted to baseless allegations,” he said.

PPPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman Friday took an exception to the comments and allegations of Minister for Railways Azam Swati against the Election Commission of Pakistan terming them disgraceful.

“The PTI government’s comments and allegations against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) are completely disgraceful. A constitutional institution has refused to bow down to their demands. They want to burn it down? Do they want to dispense with all democratic norms and get on with their model of one-party authoritarianism?” she questioned.

Sherry said accusing the ECP of taking bribes and rigging was inappropriate behavior and instead, the government should satisfy the ECP over its 37 objections. “The government needs to realize that even one objection to the EVM can make the whole election controversial,” she said. She said the ECP was not obliged to hold elections according to the government’s whims, as it was an independent institute and the PTI-led government could not dictate it.

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Joint Parliamentary session: Govt to attempt passage of electoral reforms bill on Monday

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi will address the joint sitting of parliament on Monday (September 13) as the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on Friday announced boycotting the Parliament session.

The government is all set to get the election reforms bill passed by the joint sitting of Parliament. The president on Friday summoned the joint session of Parliament at 11am on September 13. The address of the president to Parliament would mark the start of the fourth parliamentary year of the sitting National Assembly. The decision to boycott the joint sitting of Parliament was taken at a meeting of the PDM Steering Committee attended by PMLN's Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Marriyum Aurangzeb, JUIF's Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Owais Noorani, Akram Khan Durrani, Hafiz Hamdullah, Qaumi Watan Party Chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai.

Other opposition parties including the PPP and ANP have also announced a sit-in in front of Parliament House along with lawyers and members of the civil society. They would spend the Sunday night at the sit-in.

Hafiz Hamdullah, while talking to the media, said the opposition parties stand with media organisations and will continue to stand by them. He said the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) has already been rejected by the PDM, considering it an attempt to control the media. “Babar Awan and Azam Swati have insulted the Election Commission of Pakistan and Parliament,” Hamdullah said.

The meeting decided that onSeptember 26, a PDM convention will be held in Islamabad, he said, adding that lawyers, journalists and labourers will be invited to the convention.

Speaking of other decisions taken during the meeting, he said the government's "unilateral" electoral reforms have been rejected, observing that unilateral reforms are another attempt to steal the election. The JUIF leader noted that in Parliament, Swati had remarked that the ECP must be "set on fire" and that federal ministers "sought to take the state institutions hostage".

Hamdullah said the PDM will hold rallies in Faisalabad and Dera Ismail Khan on October 16 and 31 respectively, on October 31 in Dera Ismail Khan while on October 14, the Mufti Mahmud Conference will be held.