ECP consensus

January 23, 2020

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AS the new ECP appointments show, where there is a will there is a way. There was much scepticism on the question of the politicians’ ability to pass this test. But it seems that politics has won, and that consensus has prevailed despite many tense moments along the way. We need more such reminders to instil confidence in the people regarding the success of our as yet fledgling democratic system. The agreement reached by the 12-member bipartisan parliamentary panel over the names of the chief election commissioner and two ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan underscores the potential of our parliamentarians to tackle the most contentious of issues. It proves that when faced with political or legal challenges, they can, indeed, put aside their differences to find a solution. The cooperation between the treasury and opposition benches on amendments to the Army Act is yet another example — though admittedly a controversial one. Indeed, the appointment of the ECP members and chief election commissioner can be seen as a quid pro quo between the two sides. But that is what politics is all about.

With parliament having done its job, the burden of making the ECP an effective and independent entity lies on the new election commission chief. The mistrust between the opposition and government regarding each other’s nominations was a key reason for the year-long squabbling and frequent deadlocks in negotiations over the ECP appointments. With the previous chief retiring last month, the ECP was rendered non-functional. The new head, retired bureaucrat Sikandar Sultan Raja, has his work cut out for him. The first task before him is the finalisation of the electoral rolls and making arrangements for the earliest possible holding of smooth, long-overdue local government polls in Punjab and KP. Secondly, he needs to speed up the hearings on the foreign funding cases against the parties for an early settlement of the issue. At the same time, Mr Raja should firm up effective proposals for parliament to further strengthen the powers of the ECP in order to rebuild the public’s confidence in it. The local government elections will demonstrate the impartiality of the ECP under him and define the rest of his tenure as the head of the commission. The task he is facing is enormous. But he can draw strength from the confidence the parliamentarians have reposed in him on behalf of the people who want democracy to flourish in this country.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2020