LAHORE - Opposition parties new-found love for the judiciary came as a great surprise for many on Monday when the entire Opposition in Punjab Assembly converged on the point that upcoming Local Bodies elections should be held under the supervision of the judiciary and not under the civil administration.
It was surprising because the Opposition parties had earlier questioned the role of Returning Officers (District & Sessions Judges) in the May 2013 elections, accusing them of manipulating the results in favour of the PML-N candidates.
Until a few months back, former President Asif Ali Zardari and PTI chief Imran Khan have been openly criticising the conduct of Returning Officers.
The PPP leaders had also alleged that an election cell had been set up at Lahore High Court to rig the elections in selected constituencies.
PTI chief Imran Khan even had to face contempt of court charges when he termed the role of judiciary in the conduct of elections as ‘shameful’. He later modified his statement as he took the stance before the court that he was actually referring to the Returning Officers who he thought had their role in rigging.
The PML-Q leaders had also expressed similar reservations.
In this back drop, the Treasury benches were taken aback when the joint Opposition insisted on adoption of their motion on holding of elections under the supervision of the judiciary.
But this change of mind was certainly not without reason. Background interviews with some of the Opposition members suggest that Opposition parties see a different judiciary under Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani. They believe it would stay neutral by and large if assigned the responsibility of conducting the polls.
Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly, Mehmoodur Rashid, however, had a different story to tell when contacted to know the reasons behind this apparent contradiction in his party’s stance over the issue.
“Our party had shown reservations over the conduct of only four Returning Officers and had also demanded re-counting and checking of thumb impressions in the four constituencies”, he told this scribe, ,adding, that PTI had not expressed any doubts about overall conduct of the judicial officers who performed duties as Returning Officers elsewhere.
He was confident that PML-N government would not be in a position to influence all the Returning Officers if they happen to be from the judiciary. “But if they are taken from the civil administration, majority of them would fall in line if they are pressurised by the government through different means”, he further said.
The PTI leader disowned an amendment motion moved by a PPP legislator, Khurrram Jehangir Wattoo on Monday seeking insertion of the words ‘party-based’ in the relevant clause of the Local Government act. If adopted by the House, the independent candidates would have become ineligible to contest the local elections. He said the PPP lawmaker did so in his personal capacity.
When contacted, Khurram Wattoo explained that he only wanted these words to be added in the relevant clause because the court had ordered holding of ‘party-based’ elections. “It was not intended to keep the independents out of the election race in any way”, he maintained.
Wattoo opined that besides the words ‘party-based’ a proviso could have been added allowing the independents to contest the polls.