ISLAMABAD - Closing down every window of opportunity for improving its fast declining image, the election authority seems living in denial mode these days, glaringly turning down every request, one after another, to introduce fairness and credibility into the largely comprised electoral process in Pakistan.
The latest backing off on part of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) from its high-sounding reiteration to hold the local government (LG) elections in Punjab and Sindh in January next year makes just another fresh addition to the list of the commission’s unmet commitments in the recent times.
The ECP’s refusal to introduce biometric verification system for LG polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to scrutinise the wealth and tax details of lawmakers and to supervise National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA’s) thumb verification exercise has left the public and political circles wondering if the poll authority has any will or role in the conduct of free and fair elections.
“Our reservations against the ECP were not unfounded,” commented Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI’s) senior leader and Chief Election Commissioner Hamid Khan Advocate. “With the passage of time the ECP’s incompetence, incapability and ineffectiveness is unfolding.”
The ECP had repeatedly rejected Punjab and Sindh governments’ pleas to delay the LG polls in the two provinces, saying the Supreme Court’s directives on holding the local bodies elections in the two provinces would be honoured in letter and spirit. In order to deal with the ballot papers printing issue, the commission had decided to conduct phase-wise printing considering the LG election dates of the provinces and nine printing houses were engaged in this regard. Just when all the issues were settled and LG elections candidates were busy in their respective campaigns, the ECP, earlier on Thursday, declared its inability to conduct LG elections in Punjab and Sindh on January 30 and January 18.
“It’s a cruel joke, a bizarre melodrama and the ECP should be directly blamed for failing yet again,” said former secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad. He urged the Acting Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk to take notice of the ECP’s briefing given to National Assembly Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on Thursday whereby the ECP had declared that the printing of 300 million ballot papers in Punjab and 130 million in Sindh was not possible by January 30 and January 18.
“The acting CEC is a man of credibility and repute. Plus, he is a serving Supreme Court judge. He knows better than anybody else about the importance of honouring the SC directives.”
Dilshad pointed, it was the ECP that had suggested to the SC last month the dates of January 18 and January 30 for LG elections in Sindh and Punjab. “The provinces were fully onboard. Still, it took them quite a while to accept this decision. And now ECP wants to turn the things into reverse gear. That’s simply unacceptable.”
In the Thursday briefing, the ECP had also expressed inability to have the PTI’s demand materialised to use biometric verification system in KP LG polls, saying the system was too expensive and it was workable only in ‘dust-free’ environment, not in Pakistan.
This has not gone well with the PTI. “We believe this is a politically motivated decision,” Hamid Khan told this correspondent. “Normally it’s the government that resists any move to bring fairness into the electoral process but its other way around in KP. Our government demands free and fair LG elections but the ECP backs off the way it always does.”
On biometric verification, Kanwar Dilshad also took the ECP on a critical note. “No country in the world is dust-free. Every country faces environmental hazards. It’s the will and capability that helps you tackle such issues and if you lack both, you are just unfit for running an organisation as important as ECP.”
Earlier on Monday, the ECP had declared it had no powers or mechanism to probe the wealth details and tax returns of the lawmakers. Again, this statement came in stark negation of the commission’s claims made in the year 2011 suggesting the ECP was to create Political Finance Wing to nab the lawmakers who were evading taxes or submitting fraudulent wealth details with the commission. Conveniently swept under the carpet, the matter stands hushed up.
Moreover, the ECP, last week, rejected the government’s request to supervise thumb impression verification by NADRA to detect bogus or fake votes cast in general elections. The ECP said it was beyond its authority to supervise any such exercise. This too had raised eyebrows as on one hand, the ECP cited constitutional provisions to claim exclusive and unchallenged authority regarding everything concerning the conduct of free and fair polls while on the other hand, it cited the same constitution to express helplessness in holding the thumb impression verification exercise under the its supervision.
Kanwar Dilshad, last Friday had questioned the rationale behind, what he believed, was the commission’s lame excuse to shy way from the responsibility.
“I think the ECP fears that supervising the conduct of thumb impression verification exercise would expose hundreds of thousands of fake and unverified votes the way it has happened in certain parliamentary constituencies. That’s why the commission cites the neutrality factor and makes extremely unjustified efforts to shy away from its duty. Not to forget that the ECP had boisterously claimed having introduced foolproof security features in the ballot papers to eliminate fake voting in the general polls,” he told The Nation.