Friday October 22, 2021

Unnecessary controversy

September 22, 2021

The government appears to have decided to strongly take on the Election Commission of Pakistan and with it also the political opposition. While Railways Minister Azam Swati and other members of government had already delivered fierce tirades against the ECP and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Swati, in a joint press conference with Adviser to the PM Babar Awan went a step further on Monday suggesting the CEC was selected through means that were not made clear, and thus had no right to occupy the post he currently holds. The controversy that is now being opened up with other ministers also joining the attacks against the ECP and the CEC can hardly be ignored, and one wonders what strategy is driving this.

A key factor in the battle is the EVMs the government wishes to use for the upcoming election. The opposition has suggested that there is ill intention behind their use and no consensus has been reached on election reform of any kind. This whole situation is unfortunate, and perhaps the opposition too should join in discussion on reform so that it can participate in the process of decision-making that is essential to democratic working. But until all stakeholders are in agreement, it would be a mistake to insist on EVMs or to push ahead with their use. The same is true of the census that Minister Asad Umar has said would be held before the election. So far, we can see no preparations for this. Pakistan has fought hard for its democracy and for it to be retained. It would be unfortunate if it was damaged in any way at this stage. Yet the vitriolic attacks on the Election Commission and its chief appear to be doing just this.

To add to the equation, we have the issue of two crucial reports that are due soon. These concern the Daska election and the foreign funding case. In both these, it is thought the ECP has come out strongly against the government. This could be a reason for the attacks on the ECP and tactics adopted by the government. But all those involved in the process should remember that democracy must stand higher than everything else. It would cause no lasting damage to the country if EVMs are first used in local bodies or other polls and then deployed in the general election given that there are complexities in their use, and if some degree of mutual respect and milder language was used when discussing positions of office that hold dignity and deserve respect.