ISLAMABAD, Jan 30: Renowned legal expert S. M. Zafar created a stir when he commented that the existing Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was not validly constituted, and that the procedural requirement of the hearing was not met by the parliamentary committee in the cases of the Chief Election Commissioner and four members of the ECP.
Mr Zafar expressed his views during a roundtable meeting titled, “Assessment of the quality of democracy in Pakistan held under the aegis of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) on Wednesday. Findings from the Gallup-Pildat Public Opinion Survey conducted to gauge public opinion on quality of democracy in the past five years were also presented at the moot.
“In the case of the Chief Election Commissioner, the requirement of hearing was completely ignored, whereas the conditions for selection were not met in the case of at least three members,” Mr Zafar said.
He was seconded by two other legal experts, PML-N MNA Zahid Hamid and former AJK Chief Justice Manzoor Gilani, who also agreed that even if a case challenging the constitution of the ECP was filed, the court in all probability would not allow its dissolution so close to the general elections.
On the other hand, Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, who was nominated by the Prime Minister to represent the government at the event, said that the ECP was taking many decisions which would create problems for the ruling party in the electoral field. “The government has taken a number of steps to strengthen the commission and would continue to support its independence,” he told the participants, “there is no dearth of constitutional and legal powers available to the ECP.”
Mr Qamar also opined that it was unfair to call the prime minister a rubber-stamp and to think that real powers rests with the president.
“In the current dispensation, the president is drawing his strength from party chairpersonship. When the ruling coalition would not belong to the same party after election, this power equation will also change,” he said to elaborate his point.He remarked that no president who was committed to a non-political philosophy would have allowed devolution of power from Presidency to the Parliament.
“The test of holding power is not just its display on Constitution Avenue to wrap up democracy, but in its exercise with restraint. The present government has used its powers with restraint throughout its tenure,” he continued.
“For the first time in Pakistan, democratic governments in the centre and in provinces will be voted in or out based on their performance in office,” he said in his concluding remarks.
Pildat findings Chairing the session, Mr. Shahid Hamid, senior advocate Supreme Court, presented the consensus scores of the Democracy Assessment Group. He said that in five years since 2008 while the processes of democracy have improved considerably, the performance of democracy or its product, the democratic governments, has been poor.
Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani, chairman Gallup Pakistan, said that the media, judiciary and provincial autonomy have appeared as gainers whereas in public opinion, parliament, respect for human rights, cabinet, law observance executive proprietary, increased foreign encroachment on national decision making and democratic control over military are losers.
“Prospects of free and fair election reflected through independence of Election Commission of Pakistan have not improved in the past 5 years in the public opinion,” he added.
Meanwhile, Aasiya Riaz, Joint Director Pildat, said that issues that would impact the upcoming elections are assertion of judiciary at the cost of encroaching upon executive's domain; lack of effective democratic control on defence and national security; neutrality and integrity of the caretaker governments; continuation of a highly partisan president and almost equally partisan provincial governors.