Signs of looming crises?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 11:54 AM, 21 Sep, 2021
chief election commissioner
File photo of Fawad Chaudhry and Shibli Faraz.

After ‘honouring’ all commitments that the PTI had made in its 2018 election manifesto; after bringing ‘unimaginable prosperity’ to the country as a result of which every single individual of the 220 million population has become ‘self-reliant’ and the country needing no more foreign loans/assistance, the Imran Khan government has launched its final mission to grapple with the only problem that remains unaddressed so far.   

Those spearheading the operation are pretty confident that they will be able to achieve the target and unpluck the intolerable thorn without any difficulty. 

The new mission is: pressurizing the chief election commissioner to make him step down.  

The CEC is opposing the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) for the next elections for a number of reasons, a stance unacceptable to the PTI leadership. 

It’s a public knowledge that the incumbent CEC Sikander Sultan Raja is the son-in-law of former principal secretary to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. He was appointed on January 27 for a period of five years. The next general elections, due in 2023, will be held under his supervision if no change takes place by then.  

One doesn’t have to be Socrates to predict that the beleaguered CEC will use all powers/means to thwart the onslaught. Likewise, it will not be wrong to assume that invisible hands of the PML-N will also lend fullest support to the CEC to aggravate the crisis and create a situation for the ouster of the government. 

But one thing that can be said without slightest room for contradiction is that the crisis will not be in the PTI’s government’s favour. It still has two years to complete its mandated term and its destabilization at this juncture will not be in the country’s interest. 

It will bring the opposition parties of all shades of opinion closer and provide them with a justification to join hands, forgetting the bitterness of the past. 

Two federal ministers: Fawad Chaudhry and Shibli Faraz subjected the CEC to severe criticism at a news conference in Islamabad on Sunday. 

(Fawad was minister for science and technology before being given the information portfolio. This ministry is developing the controversial EVMs. Shibli is the current minister heading the same ministry).  

The information minister said the PTI government had serious “reservations” over the CEC’s conduct and asked the incumbent to step down from his position over his alleged “political” alignment. 

“Both the opposition and the CEC are using the same language,” Fawad said while referring to dozens of ECP’s objections to the proposed electoral reforms. 

He said: “The politicians can talk on issues openly and they are even criticised ... but the judiciary and the ECP should not portray themselves as opposition leader.” This was an attempt to say that the CEC was part of the campaign to “discredit” the government plan for introducing voting machines. 

To intensify the allegation, the minister said the ECP had ‘excluded’ all the supporting arguments in favour of voting machines in the report that carried information from other countries such as the Philippines, Estonia and the Dominican Republic and their positive experiences with the machines. 

He explained that voters’ trust in elections in the Philippines increased from 35 per cent in 2007 to 75pc and 89pc in the 2010 and 2019 elections, respectively, after the introduction of voting machines. He said as many as 1,000 election-related petitions were filed in the Philippines in 2007 and their number reduced to just 11 in 2019 due to the use of voting machines. He was of the opinion that conditions in the Philippines and Pakistan were similar. 

“The way the positive material was excluded (from the report) shows it clearly that the CEC, for a purpose, is against the (electoral) reforms,” the minister argued. 

To make his position, the minister explained that he represented the cabinet and being official spokesperson he “says whatever is the thinking of the government”. 

He categorically declared that the next elections would be held only after the reforms and that the government would get the election laws passed from the joint session of the parliament. He maintained it was the responsibility of the parliament to decide the process of conducting elections and the ECP should respect the decision. 

Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz termed all the objections raised by the ECP to the proposed voting machines “invalid”. 

He said the ECP gave a list of 37 objections and 27 of them were related to the incapacity of the ECP itself to hold elections in such manner. 

He alleged that the ECP was deliberately using ‘delaying tactics’ so that voting machines could not be used in the coming elections.

“Why didn’t the ECP take any step to use voting machines in around 10 by-elections held in recent months,” he asked while referring to the Elections Act 2017. 

The PPP put its weight behind the PML-N when Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said the ministers had lost their temper after receiving notices from the ECP. 

“Earlier, the ECP was threatened to be set on fire by a sitting federal minister and now an organised campaign is being launched to make the constitutional body controversial,” said the senator. 

“The government is trying to tarnish the ECP’s reputation in order to rig the next general elections,” he said, adding that commission had opposed the unilateral decision of the government to use voting machines and raised serious concerns at the hearing of Senate’s standing committee. 

“The government ministers are accusing the CEC to isolate him and make his position controversial,” he said while recalling that the present CEC had been nominated by the ruling PTI leadership itself. 

On Monday, minister for railways Swati launched another attack on the CEC, claiming that his appointment was a bitter pill that had been digested by the government in the greater national interest. It clearly meant that the incumbent was not suitable for the job, but the government had to accept him for unexplained reasons.   

Questioning the CEC’s alleged partisan attitude, the railways minister said Maryam Nawaz and Maulana Fazlur Rehman had also made many statements against the ECP. How many notices had they been issued, he asked of the ECP. 

The controversy about the EVMs at this juncture will only vitiate the political environment after which a consensus on electoral reforms will become impossible. 

On the other hand, the confrontation between the government and the opposition will make the 2023 elections uncertain. 

The two sides are poles apart and a lot remains to be done. And then federal minister Asad Umar says the next elections will be held on the basis of new census – which is yet to be held. 

The results of the 2017 census have not so far been accepted by all parties. In such a situation what magic wand the government will use to hold new census and make the results acceptable to all parties. 

Apparently, these are all signs of the looming crises

Ashraf Mumtaz

The writer is the Deputy Editor of 24 Digital.