IF Imran Khan and the PTI are guilty of not treating the Election Commission of Pakistan with the respect it deserves, the ECP is guilty of overreacting by demanding the arrest of Mr Khan and his forcible appearance before the commission later this month. The tussle between the ECP and Mr Khan is rooted in an attempt by a former party member to have the PTI supremo disqualified from holding public office because of illegal foreign funds that the party allegedly received. The PTI leader responded to the petition before the commission in a shabby manner, triggering contempt of court proceedings by an ECP tribunal under its jurisdiction as a high court. Now, a seemingly exasperated ECP has escalated matters by issuing an order for Mr Khan’s arrest to force him to appear before the tribunal holding the contempt of court proceedings. It is an unnecessary move by the ECP, though it is hoped that the PTI and Mr Khan will do the sensible thing and voluntarily appear before the tribunal later this month.
Perhaps the ECP is seeking to lay down a marker ahead of the next general election, which likely will be held under a new regime of electoral rules and practices that aim to significantly enhance the powers of the commission. However, the ECP needs to demonstrate not only that it is willing to be tough but that it is also capable of being scrupulously fair. The PTI’s strong reaction to the disqualification petition against Mr Khan is understandable, given that it has the potential to knock out Mr Khan from electoral politics ahead of a general election that the party likely views as its greatest opportunity to win power at the federal level. But the PTI must also recognise that it has a tendency to be dismissive of the law and political norms — while endlessly demanding better standards of conduct from its political rivals. If the party and Mr Khan have done nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear from the ECP.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2017