Govt ramps up attack on ECP despite warning

• Poll commission says it won’t succumb to pressure; advises PTI to stop mudslinging after losing Senate poll
• Minister says commission should be ‘ashamed’ not ‘saddened’
• PPP seeks contempt of court proceedings against PM

ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf on Friday continued to attack the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on a second consecutive day even after the ECP advised the party to stop mud-slinging and come up with evidence if it had any objection, declaring that the institution would not succumb to any pressure.

In his televised address to the nation after the ruling party’s key candidate suffered defeat in the Senate polls, Prime Minister Imran Khan had accused the ECP of ‘damaging democracy’ and criticised the body over use of secret ballot for polling.

The ECP, which met here with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja in the chair, made it clear that it could not ignore the Constitution and the law just to ‘appease somebody’, reminding the government that the Constitution in its present form provides for secret ballot for Senate elections.

The ECP chided the PTI for being very upset over the result of Senate polls and noted that the parties need to have a heart to digest defeats. The commission said it conducted the Senate polls as per the Constitution. It said the ECP being an independent constitutional body had to see what the Constitution warranted it to do. “Strict adherence to the Constitution and the law is our yardstick,” the ECP said.

The commission said the observations made following the electoral exercise by some cabinet members and particularly by Prime Minister Khan were ‘painful’.

Anyone having a grievance against the ECP’s orders and decisions should adopt the constitutional path and let the ECP perform its duties independently, the commission said before declaring “we have neither succumbed to any pressure nor will we in the days ahead Insha Allah”.

All what happened was beauty of democracy and secret ballot, the ECP said, reminding the government it needed constitutional amendment to change the mode of polling as the Constitution in its present form provides for secret ballot for Senate elections.

“The ECP listens to everybody but performs its duties only in the light of the Constitution and the law and takes decisions independently regardless of any pressure so as to promote democracy….,” it explained.

The ECP said it was astonishing to see that two elections took place the same day under one roof with the same electoral college and polling staff, but the one the PTI lost was rejected and the other won by it was accepted.

“Isn’t it an open contradiction?” Likewise, it said, there was no objection over the elections held in all the provinces.

Regretting the criticism of a constitutional body, the ECP asked the ruling PTI to come with evidence if it had any objection. “If we can listen to your proposals, why not the complaints,” the statement claimed before appealing to the PTI leadership to stop mudslinging against institutions and accept its defeat.

Swiftly responding to the reservations shown by the ECP, two members of the prime minister’s cabinet along with a newly elected senator, Barrister Ali Zafar, addressed a press conference to say that the ECP should not be “saddened” but “ashamed”.

The government upped the ante against the commission a day before Prime Minister Imran Khan is seeking a vote of confidence from the National Assembly in a bid to remove the impression that he had lost support of the House, including many of his own party lawmakers, after the ruling alliance candidate, incumbent finance minister Hafeez Shaikh, lost Senate election to joint opposition’s candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The prime minister’s decision to take a fresh vote of confidence proved that values were more important for him than power, and no such example existed in the country’s political history, said Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz in a joint press conference with Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Zafar.

Mr Chaudhry said: “The prime minister had said that holding fair and transparent Senate elections was a responsibility of the election commission which was not fulfilled—now the commission should not be saddened but ashamed.”

He rejected some media reports that the PTI government wanted to stage a sit-in in front of the ECP headquarters after losing one of the two Senate seats from Islamabad. “We do respect all state institutions including the ECP and the government has no intention to stage a sit-in in front of the ECP office,” the minister said.

He said: “We have objections over the issuance of press release by the ECP. Institutions show their impartiality through their actions. It seems to be inappropriate that you (ECP) issue a press release on PM’s remarks.”

The minister claimed that the PTI government wanted to empower ECP to hold fair and transparent polls. He said: “I want to tell chief election commissioner and the commission members that no one else wants to further empower ECP more than us.” However, he said the gesture shown by the returning officer (RO) during the Senate poll, on a seat from Islamabad, was quite partial as the RO stood up from his seat to give respect to the leader of the opposition (Shahbaz Sharif) but not for PM Khan.

Mr Chaudhry said the ECP had asked the government for evidence of horse-trading but it did not take any action on credible proofs like recent video leak in which a son of Mr Gilani was allegedly trying to buy loyalty of PTI MNAs.

Criticising the commission, the minister said: “ECP is a powerful institution—you (ECP) are so powerful that you ignored an advice of the Supreme Court that not the political parties but the ECP can check the controversial votes.”

The minister said the government had requested the ECP, before recent senate polls, to get printed ballot papers with bar code facility but it was not entertained. “We are still hopeful that the ECP will review its stance and will show its impartiality through its actions,” he added.

Senator Faraz said the opposition did not give positive response to the government initiatives for open balloting to hold free and transparent Senate elections, because it did not suit their ideology and priorities.

“The scourge of corruption was introduced in politics after 1985 party-less elections when the persons like Nawaz Sharif had entered the political arena,” he added.

He said PM Khan had joined politics with the slogan to end corrupt practices like horse-trading, use of money and bullying. “Elections are the essence of democracy. A building cannot not be built properly if its foundation is faulty. With transparency in the electoral process, the image of institutions and parliamentarians can be restored,” he believed.

He said the PTI had expelled its members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly for violation of party discipline in the 2018 Senate elections, too, but the media should ask the opposition parties as to how many members they had expelled for any such violation.

Mr Faraz claimed that the ‘opposition leaders’ considered those elections fair and free which they won, otherwise, they termed the polls ‘unfair and rigged’, whereas the PTI leadership had the clear stance that ‘only objections’ would be raised if elections were not free.

‘PM committed contempt’
Meanwhile, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Senator Sherry Rehman said: “Election Commission of Pakistan was an independent and constitutional body.

“PM’s allegations against it are an insult and undermines its authority. The PM has committed contempt under the Elections Act, 2017. Section 10, Power to punish for contempt is very clear on this. It states that the Commission may exercise the same power as the High Court to punish any person for contempt of court and the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003 (V of 2003), or any other law pertaining to contempt of court,” she said in a statement.

Ms Rehman said, “Giving statements like, I will get the people out on the streets, is he instigating unrest in the country? This is an extremely irresponsible statement. Has he forgotten that he is the PM of this country?

She said it was ironic that he was criticising the ECP for holding Senate elections through the secret ballot. He has said that he did not understand why the ECP said the ballot had to be secret. “Has the PM not read the Constitution? Even the Supreme Court had agreed with ECP’s stance that the open ballot for Senate election requires constitutional amendment. Through his allegations, is he challenging the Supreme Court, too?” she questioned.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021

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