ISLAMABAD: For some of its officials’ acts, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) came under fire in the National Assembly on Wednesday for a perceived pre-poll politician bashing and the house decided to send a bipartisan committee to plead for a more respectable treatment.
After a furious opposition leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N, protested against an apparently impolite and threatening letter he said he had received from a commission official to verify his educational qualification, Law Minister Farooq H. Naek termed the behaviour a “witch-hunt”, Speaker Fehmida Mirza asked all parties in the house to nominate their representatives for the committee to be formed by Thursday.
But no names were given during or after a heated discussion marked by an unusual desk-thumping and cheers from the main parties for one another’s speakers, some of whom also complained about the role of unspecified media outlets in “vilification of politicians.”
The nerves of lawmakers seemed eased towards the end of the evening sitting when the house unanimously adopted a key government bill seeking to strengthen provisions of the existing Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 against terrorism financing, and heard Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani express satisfaction over the result of negotiations of a government team with the leaders of Hazara Shia community in Quetta that ended a sit-in over the massacre of over 90 people in Saturday’s bombing. The session was adjourned until 11am on Thursday.
Chaudhry Nisar, who braved what he called terrible back pain to stand up and speak against “across-the-board vilification of parliamentarians being painted in the media as fraudsters, fake degree holders or tax evaders,” and particularly about a letter he said he had received from an ECP director — reportedly also sent to 249 other legislators — threatening that their degrees would be treated as fake and criminal proceedings would be initiated against them if they failed to produce their matriculation and intermediate certificates.
Informing the house that he had done his “O Level” and “A Level” from a foreign university, he said instead of complying with the directives issued in the letter, he would write a letter to the ECP, asking it to withdraw the objectionable letter sent by its director (legal), Sanaullah Malik.
The opposition leader, who asked the commission not to turn itself into a “media house” to defame parliamentarians, proposed formation of a joint committee of parliament to take up with the commission matters about its procedures.
Mr Naek, whose brief speech was greeted with as much applause by opposition members as Chaudhry Nisar’s tirade received from the treasury benches, came out strongly in support of what he called the “truth” in the opposition leader’s speech. The minister said “writing such letters is a witch-hunt the ECP is engaging in” and demanded withdrawal of the document.
He said the commission was acting beyond powers vested in it by the Constitution by stopping development or other grants -- like one made for the Pakistan Bar Council -- before the announcement of election schedule.
Support for the opposition leader’s case also came from the government-allied PML-Q’s Mohammad Raza Hayat Haraj, who objected to a reported decision by the commission to publicise details about families of parliamentarians, and Riaz Fatyana who sought, without success, a ruling from the chair against the commission’s directive to stop release of development funds before election schedule.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar, whose party quit the PPP-led coalition last week, sounded a somewhat discordant note by warning against making the commission controversial, and said verification of degrees should be accepted like verification of voters’ lists in Karachi.
LANDMARK LAW: The law minister, who piloted the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill in the absence of Interior Minister Rahman Malik, called it a “landmark” legislation that he said would address shortcomings in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 highlighted by the international Financial Action Task Force, which sets and monitors international standards on efforts against money laundering and financing of terrorism.
“The amendments shall improve the regime for freezing, seizing and forfeiting property used for terrorism,” the bill’s statement of objectives and reasons said.
QUETTA CARNAGE: Winding up a debate on Quetta carnage, Mr Bijarani said the government team’s negotiations with Shia and Hazara leaders in Quetta on Tuesday had led to the acceptance of almost all of their demands, including those related to protection of the Hazara community, a targeted operation against terrorists and compensation for the deaths, injuries and damage to properties caused by the terrorist attack.
He said army deployment in Quetta had not been included in the charter of demands presented to them, adding that army had already been deployed in two Hazara areas.