Parliamentary body on poll rigging takes shape

Updated October 16, 2018


ISLAMABAD: A day after the by-elections on 35 seats of national and provincial assemblies across the country, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser formally constituted a 30-member bipartisan and bicameral parliamentary committee to probe allegations of rigging in the July 25 general elections.

The “Parliamentary Committee on the General Elections 2018”, which has been formed on the demand of the opposition parties, comprises 10 members from the Senate and 20 from the lower house of parliament, according to a notification issued by the National Assembly secretariat on Monday.

As per an agreement between the government and the opposition parties, the committee comprises equal number of members from the treasury and opposition benches and it will be headed by a government nominee.

While there has been no official announcement from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) about the chairmanship of the committee, which includes six federal ministers and several political heavyweights, sources told Dawn that Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to head it.

Thirty-member bicameral committee with equal representation of ruling and opposition parties will be headed by PM’s nominee

The government had agreed to set up the special committee to probe rigging allegations only after both sides took a step back on their stated positions over its composition on Sept 19.

The motion allowing Speaker Qaiser to constitute the special committee in consultation with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif had been moved in the assembly by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had informed the house about successful talks between the government and the opposition representatives on the issue. He had also told the house that under an agreed formula, the government and the opposition sides would have equal representation in the committee as demanded by the opposition and it would be headed by a person to be nominated by Mr Khan. The PTI leader initially announced that there was no need to include senators in the committee as the issue was related to the National Assembly elections.

After a protest by opposition members in the Senate against the government position, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani wrote a letter to NA Speaker Qaiser, asking him to also include members of the upper house in the parliamentary committee. Subsequently, another round of talks was held between the government and the opposition in the presence of Speaker Qiaser and Senate Chairman Sanjrani and the participants finally agreed that it would be a bicameral committee.

While moving the motion in the NA, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan stated that a special committee be constituted so as to “examine and make recommendations” and for “finalising terms of reference” (ToRs) with regard to the allegations of rigging in the general elections and taking further steps as mandated in the ToRs.

No time frame has been set for the committee for finalising its fact-finding report though the two sides agreed that the committee “will submit a report within such time as is agreeable” by the committee (members).”

Composition of parliamentary committee

There are seven members each from the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the committee, followed by four members from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), two members each from Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and one member each from the PML-Q, Balochistan National Party (BNP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Awami National Party (ANP) besides an independent lawmaker from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The treasury members belonging to the PTI in the committee are Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood, Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, Science and Technology Minister Azam Swati, MNA Malik Amir Dogar and Senator Nauman Wazir.

Other members from the ruling coalition are Minister for Housing and Works Tariq Bashir Cheema (PML-Q), Sardar Akhtar Mengal (BNP-M), Khalid Magsi and Sarfraz Bugti (BAP), Mohammad Ali Saif and Aminul Haq (MQM-P), Ghous Bux Mahar (GDA) and Hidayatullah (Fata).

The opposition members in the committee are former speaker Ayaz Sadiq, former deputy speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Rana Sanaullah, Senators Javed Abbasi and Asad Junejo of the PML-N; former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, former opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah, Syed Naveed Qamar and Rehman Malik of the PPP; Abdul Wasay and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the MMA; Usman Kakar of the PkMAP and Amir Haider Hoti of the ANP.

The opposition parties allege that the general elections were manipulated and rigged only to enable the PTI to form the government.

The alleged failure of the Result Transmission System (RTS) during the vote count made the general elections controversial with both the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) officials holding each other responsible for the controversy.

Nearly all opposition parties as well as a ruling coalition partner, the MQM-P, had alleged at the time of the vote count that their polling agents had been expelled from various polling stations.

The parliamentary committee’s work is expected to revolve around finding answers to the two questions — whether the RTS had actually collapsed and if the polling agents were forcefully expelled from the polling stations after the polling.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2018