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Govt, PTI trade proposals for electoral reforms

Published Sep 05, 2014 06:14am
The two sides have only agreed broadly to electoral reforms and establishing a judicial commission.— File photo by Tanveer Shahzad
The two sides have only agreed broadly to electoral reforms and establishing a judicial commission.— File photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: The dreaded ‘D’ word was back on Thursday evening when a key member of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) negotiating team dispelled an impression that the party was about to seal a deal with the government and end the political stalemate.

“The two sides have only agreed broadly to our proposal of electoral reforms and establishing a judicial commission. There is no further progress on the rest of our demands,” Dr Arif Alvi told Dawn.

He made these remarks after the working paper prepared by his party had been made public.

A quick read of the eight-page working paper makes it clear that finding the much hoped middle ground will not be easy.

Also read: Govt, PTI in fresh bid to end deadlock

For instance, the PTI wants new legislation for the setting up of a supreme judicial commission (SJC) with exclusive powers.

The PTI wants the commission to have the power to investigate, prosecute and pass a binding judgment for the contesting parties — the government and PTI.

The primary function of the SJC will be to “undertake an independent investigation into the allegations of PTI regarding rigging or manipulation of the 2013 elections and based on its investigation to submit within 30 days, a legally binding and enforceable final report”.

In order to be able to investigate the party has suggested that the SJC be helped by a joint investigation committee (JIC) comprising officials from FIA, Nadra, ECP, ISI, MI and IB. This committee will work as the investigative arm of the SJC.

Senior lawyers are agreed that these suggestions will require legislation.

“It appears to be a new idea that will require a constitutional amendment,” said S.M. Zafar, former law minister and seasoned constitutional expert and Supreme Court lawyer when told about the proposal.

He explained that at present the investigation of rigging during elections rested with the Election Commission of Pakistan, which too could not entertain pleas on the issue after a certain period of time.

His views were endorsed in a way by Dr Alvi who admitted that the two sides were heading for tough negotiations as they tried to finalise the terms of reference of the proposed SJC.

He said that the PTI was not willing to simply rest the matter after agreeing to a commission as in recent times the findings of commissions on memogate and the media did not provide any conclusive solutions.

However, the PTI’s proposals do not end at ensuring a watertight commission, which according to the paper will investigate 30 constituencies that will be identified by the PTI.

Defining the evidence

They go much further – the party has also explained in detail what would be considered evidence that would be enough to prove rigging.

Here the party has suggested that bias on the party of any ECP official; omissions or malpractices of district returning officers; returning officers; unauthorised transfer or postings of government officials; last-minute changes in location of polling stations; delays in the consolidation or notification of results; stuffing of ballot boxes, eleventh-hour changes in polling schemes; Nadra’s failure to verify voters’ thumb impression can all constitute as proof of rigging.

There is no doubt that if these proposals are accepted and investigations carried out under such stringent rules, it may prove difficult to give a green chit to the result of any controversial constituency.

What comes next?

The working paper adds that if such ‘rigging’ is proven the prime minister will have to recommend the dissolution of the assemblies and new elections held.

In fact, it is because of this set of recommendations relating to the aftermath of the investigations that the PTI has suggested that the rigging issue is examined in two phases.

In first phase, the powerful SJC carries out the investigations and in the second (once the rigging is established) the PM will resign; assemblies will be dissolved; electoral reforms carried out; an impartial caretaker set-up established with the consensus of all parties; resignation of all the members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP); and hold all those accountable under Article 6 of the Constitution who allegedly helped rig the 2013 general elections.

In this second phase, the SJC is supposed to ensure that all of the above is carried out.

According to another significant proposal, the PTI wants to have Supreme Monitoring Council (SMC) for the interim period (after the government and assemblies are sent home) which shall act as the primary forum for settlement of any and all disputes, disagreement or deadlocks between the PTI and PML-N or between the PTI or and the executive authorities.

But despite this tall – very tall – order, Dr Alvi insisted that his party had shown flexibility by backtracking on its two key demands – the immediate resignation of the prime minister and the immediate dissolution of the assemblies.

“Instead, we suggested that he go on a month’s leave till the judicial commission completes its election probe and the assemblies stay intact. And the latter will allow the PML-N to remain a majority ruling party of the house.”

Late at night, hours after the proposal of the PTI was made public, the government said it had prepared a detailed reply after taking the parliamentary party leaders into confidence. This reply, the government said, had been sent to the PTI leadership.

The reply was presented by Senator Ishaq Dar to the PTI leadership, said the government. The PTI has asked for a day to respond to it.

Talking to Dawn, Asad Umar, another PTI negotiator, said that the party would discuss the government response on Friday.

PTI General Secretary Jahangir Tareen told a television channel that the two sides would meet on Friday.

When asked, Federal Minister retired Lt Abdul Qadir Baloch didn’t share any details of the response though he said it had been sent to PTI.

Gen Qadir is part of the government team holding negotiations with PTI.

However, a government source, privy to the preparation of the reply told Dawn, “I don’t know how the two sides are going to bridge this gap, because currently they are still poles apart.”

The prime minister continues to solicit support

The prime minister had an hour-long meeting with the heads of parliamentary parties and took them into confidence about the government’s talks with the PTI.

In the morning, he also met the six-member peace Jirga led by Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq.

Siraj’s Mission Impossible

In the evening the JI emir, after meeting the PPP leader of the opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, said the two sides (government and PTI) had to move fast as no-one could afford any more delays.

He said that both sides wanted the six-member peace Jirga present when they met on Friday.

Late at night there were some unconfirmed reports of a meeting between PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the JI emir at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa house. However, it wasn’t possible to confirm this.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014