ISLAMABAD – While certain quarters have called for a probe into the foul play in the 1990 general polls, the election commission finds itself restrained under its election laws which do not allow it to proceed against those instrumental in stealing those elections.
In a conversation with this scribe, Chief Election Commissioner, retired justice Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, stated that the election laws were not ‘very effective’ in the cases of pre-poll rigging. “Our laws are not very effective before the announcement of election schedule.”
To prove his point, he added, “Monitoring of election campaigns, keeping a check on violations about electoral expenses, transportation, signboards and other related affairs come into effect once the election schedule is announced in any constituency.”
“Similar is the case in any general elections. The ECP’s code of conduct becomes applicable after the announcement of elections schedule,” added Ebrahim during an official meeting some days back.
Seconding the CEC’s viewpoint, Kanwar Dilshad, former ECP secretary, said the commission did not have any powers to take stock of malpractices of politicians/candidates before the announcement of elections.
“Under sections 78 and 79 of the Representation of People Act, 1976, the ECP can take action against candidates found indulged in corrupt practices, including bribery or other forms of pre-poll rigging,” he said while adding that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), mandated to deal with bribery in election-related cases, fell outside the ambit of the ECP.
The apex court had ordered the government to initiate criminal proceedings against two retired generals, Mirza Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani, the main architects of the pre-poll rigging saga, through the FIA.
Politicians, who allegedly received hefty bribes to steal the 1990 elections that was a major disappointment for Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), included prominent politicians such as Nawaz Sharif, Muhammad Khan Junejo, late Pir Pagara, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Zafarullah Jamali, Jam Sadiq and others.
Recalling the political scenario of 1990, Kanwar Dilshad said Nawaz Sharif came to power with the ‘blessings’ of a military establishment that preferred Sharif over Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. “Jatoi was president of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad at the centre, while Sharif was its Punjab chapter chief.”
The former ECP secretary said Jatoi could not become prime minister due to the military establishment’s opposition, he said, adding that Jatoi deserved premiership
“When I was Sindh’s election commissioner, Mustafa Jatoi visited my office one day and said he could not become the country’s premier after the 1990 polls due to the establishment’s opposition,” he said.
Jatoi served as the caretaker prime minister at the time of 1990 general elections. Dilshad also said that late president Ghulam Ishaq Khan had amended a number of ordinances to keep Benazir Bhutto away from the power corridors.
One of the important amendments, he said, was made in the Section 11 of the Representation of People Act, 1976, to allow rejection of nomination papers of an electoral candidate even if previously accepted by the returning office, on the objection of any voter. Dilshad said the committee Benazir had formed to probe rigging in the 1990 elections formulated a detailed report and shared it with the then chief election commissioner retired justice Naeemuddin and ECP member retired justice Khalilur Rehman but they rejected it due to the pressure from Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the military.
The committee that prepared the said report was led by late Omar Asghar Khan, and included Syed Iqbal Haidar, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Shafqat Mehmood and Qaiser Bengali.