STAFF members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly make final arrangements on Tuesday for polling to elect new members of the upper house of parliament; and (right) Karim Bakhsh Gabol, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf member of the Sindh Assembly who has said he will not vote for his party’s candidates in Senate elections, is grabbed by a colleague, Raja Azhar, after he enters the assembly hall.—PPI
STAFF members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly make final arrangements on Tuesday for polling to elect new members of the upper house of parliament; and (right) Karim Bakhsh Gabol, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf member of the Sindh Assembly who has said he will not vote for his party’s candidates in Senate elections, is grabbed by a colleague, Raja Azhar, after he enters the assembly hall.—PPI

• ECP rejects govt plea, upholds vote privacy
• Fawad says offer to provide technology turned down
• PTI’s strength may almost double in Senate

ISLAMABAD: As the dust settles over the open ballot controversy that kept the ruling and opposition parties engaged in a war of words besides a legal battle for months before the much-awaited Supreme Court decision, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will conduct polling for the Senate election on Wednesday (today) as per past practice without employing any technology for vote traceability.

“The decision has been taken due to time constraints,” said an ECP statement released after a meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on Tuesday.

Just hours after the ECP announcement, federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry insisted that the implementation of the apex court’s order was a prerequisite for holding of credible elections. The court had issued “clear directions to the ECP to use technology”, he said. Earlier, he had said the ECP had turned down the government offer for use of technology.

While observing that it had not received a detailed order from the SC, the ECP in its meeting discussed the short order issued by the apex court on March 1 and decided to implement it in letter and spirit. The ECP said the commission was required to take all available measures, including utilising technologies, to fulfill the solemn constitutional duty to ensure that the election is ‘conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against. It emphasised that all institutions were bound to follow the ECP decision.

Input on use of technology

The commission also constituted a three-member committee that would take input from different professionals and technical organisations on the use of technology in the Senate election. The committee headed by ECP special secretary, and comprising director general (IT), and joint provincial election commissioner from Punjab has been asked to submit its report to the ECP within four weeks.

The committee will take assistance from the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Ministry of Information Technology and any other official from these organisations may step in or be co-opted for having better recommendations.

Vigilance committee

The ECP also released details of the arrangements it has made for the Senate election under Article 218 (3) of the Constitution to make the Senate election 2021 free, fair, impartial and transparent:

The commission set up a vigilance committee comprising representatives of the ECP, FBR, NAB, State Bank of Pakistan and NADRA, which is required to provide necessary information and records from various government agencies to the ECP and submit its report after making inquiries where necessary to curb all forms of electoral corruption. The committee can be contacted at vigilance@ecp.gov.pk.

Online complaints

A complaint management system has also been generated for public to share their grievances with the ECP online through its official website www.ecp.gov.pk.

Besides, a special monitoring cell has been set up in the Election Commission Secretariat to check corrupt practices in the Senate elections under Section 167 of the Elections Act, 2017. This cell is working 24 hours a day so that people can send a complaint of any corrupt practice related to Senate election 2021 to the ECP.

As the Chief Election Commissioner will also monitor the Senate election himself, people can send their complaints about electoral corruption directly to him at cec@ecp.gov.pk.

On Tuesday the CEC called a meeting of Nadra chairman, PTA chairman and the FIA director general and sought their proposals to check electoral corruption. They were also instructed to immediately inform the ECP if any kind of corruption came to their notice so that immediate legal action could be taken.

To make Senate elections transparent, the ECP has already decided to enforce a code of conduct, obtain affidavits from candidates and set up a digital facilitation centre.

Letter to Liaquat Jatoi

Taking notice of former MNA Liaquat Jatoi’s statement alleging that Rs350 million were received from Saifullah Abro for the award of Senate ticket, ECP’s vigilance committee decided to dispatch a letter to the veteran politician to share documentary evidence or any other proof so that the matter could be taken up.

The vigilance committee met under ECP director general (law) Mohammad Arshad. Representatives of the State Bank of Pakistan, NAB, FBR, Nadra and FIA, who are its members, attended the meeting. The forum deliberated upon other measures to ensure transparency in the Senate polls and remove the impression of use of money for buying of votes or barring a member(s) from voting for someone.

The participants were of the opinion that the masses should be made aware of the committee’s existence so that anyone, having any related evidence, could share it for necessary action, if they found anyone paying or receiving money or any other benefit with regard to the Senate elections.

The information or evidence can be shared with the committee at postal address: DG (Law) ECP Secretariat, G-5/2, Islamabad, and email address: vigilance@ecp.gov.pk. besides over the phone (051-9216663).

Numerical strength

While the ruling PTI’s numerical strength in the Senate is expected to almost double from the existing 14 seats, the hottest contest is expected in Islamabad between former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and incumbent Adviser to PM on Finance Hafeez Sheikh.

As many as 52 senators are set to retire — 50 per cent of the 104-member house — on March 11 after completing their six-year tenure. This time there will be no polling for the four seats of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) after its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and for the 11 seats from Punjab.

Therefore, polling was supposed to be held to elect 37 senators — 12 each from KP and Balochistan, 11 from Sindh and two from Islamabad.

From Punjab, all the candidates for three categories — seven general and two seats each reserved for women and technocrats — stand elected unopposed after disqualification or withdrawal of papers by other contestants, with the result that five seats each have gone to the ruling PTI and opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), while one has been grabbed by the PML-Quaid, an ally of the ruling alliance.

Polling will be held to elect seven members on general seats, two women and two technocrats in the other provinces. Besides, the election on one minority seat each in KP and Balochistan will also be conducted.

Prominent candidates from KP are Shibli Faraz and Mohsin Aziz of the PTI and Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Maulana Ataur Rehman, the brother of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has also filed papers to contest the election on a general seat.

From Sindh, current deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwalla, Sherry Rehman, Farooq Naek and Taj Haider of the PPP and Sohail Mansoor Khawaja, Faisal Sabzwari, Abdul Kadir Khanzada of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Minster for Water Resources Faisal Vawda are prominent candidates.

Prominent candidates in Balochistan are Sarfaraz Bugti of the Balochistan Awami Party, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and Kamran Murtaza of the JUI-F, Israrullah Zehri of the Balochistan National Party-Awami and Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2021

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