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‘Poll rigging’ probe

August 11, 2018

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SHAHBAZ Sharif has demanded that a parliamentary commission be created to inquire into the allegations of a number of political parties and candidates that the July 25 general election was flawed and possibly systematically rigged. Mr Sharif’s demand ought to be accepted by the incoming PTI government and a commission set up at the earliest. To be sure, there are a number of other appeals and investigations that must also be carried out. Losing candidates are entitled to an appeals process that begins with the ECP and can culminate in the Supreme Court — the legal challenges of candidates ought to be decided fairly in the appropriate forums. Similarly, the ECP has pledged to investigate the reasons for the failure or otherwise of the Results Transmission System on the night of the election, a controversy that has yet to be adequately explained by any official. But a parliamentary commission can have a role too.

Parliament is the forum in which both the winning and losing parties are represented and where legislative changes can be made. There is reason for scepticism that a meaningful inquiry is possible inside parliament: the winning side has every incentive to preserve the legitimacy of its electoral victory by downplaying problems in the election, while the losing parties have clear political incentives to exaggerate the challenges. But the last parliament suffered from similar problems at the outset and yet parliament was able to draft an electoral reforms package that was historic in its sweep and had broad political support. The final electoral reforms bill may have been rendered controversial by a PML-N decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to be re-elevated to the position of party president and a contrived religious dispute that snowballed into a political and security crisis. However, the core of the reforms drafted by the last parliament continue to have widespread political support.

While the allegations against the general election are of a serious nature, even otherwise a parliamentary commission may have been a welcome proposal. Poll reforms introduced by the last parliament have now been tested in a general election and there are areas in which further changes may be necessary. For example, the revised declaration forms submitted by candidates to the ECP that the Supreme Court objected to could be re-examined by parliament. Similarly, the ECP’s code of conduct and requests for administrative and security assistance were all lawful, but parliament may wish to revisit the ECP’s exercise of its powers and the rules governing them. Finally, it has become apparent that in addition to being constitutionally autonomous and legally empowered, a truly independent ECP requires a chief election commissioner and members who are able and willing to defend the ECP’s turf from all institutional encroachment and interference. A parliamentary commission could help produce new ideas and proposals for strengthening the democratic process.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2018