Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday lashed out at the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) for "making a mockery of democracy", while also calling out the ECP for "protecting those who made money by holding the Senate elections through secret ballot".
The premier made these remarks in an address to the nation where he explained the political situation in the country that emerged after Wednesday's Senate elections in which the opposition managed to stage an upset.
"It is important to talk about it and explain it, because the problems in our country can be understood through the kind of election that happened," the premier said at the start of his address.
He said when the PTI took part in the Senate elections six years ago, he realised that "money is used" in the polls for the upper house. This was not a new phenomenon, he said, but had been going on for the last 30-40 years.
"The one who becomes a senator and wants to become one uses money and who do they buy? Members of parliament.
"So I was surprised when I came to know and since then I started a campaign that what joke is happening with our democracy? What kind of democracy is this?" he said, noting that the country's leadership emerged from the Senate elections and the parliament, and the prime minister and cabinet members were chosen from among lawmakers.
"So I was surprised that when you're spending money, a senator becomes a senator by giving bribes, and on the other side [are] those MPs who are selling their conscience and voting after taking money, then what kind of democracy is this? Since then I started my campaign and I said since then that there should be open ballot."
In the 2018 Senate elections, Imran said he came to know that 20 PTI lawmakers had sold their votes after taking money.
"We expelled the 20 members but then I saw that it wasn't just me saying this, but the two main parties that signed the Charter of Democracy — the PML-N and PPP — had agreed that there should be open ballot because money is exchanged in the Senate elections," he added, saying PML-N leaders later also issued similar statements.
In view of the above, the premier said, the PTI presented a bill in the parliament seeking open ballot for the Senate polls. "Then we saw it wasn't happening and the parties which had said that there should be open ballot didn't support us. We then went to the Supreme Court and a whole case was heard in the SC. [During the hearings,] judges repeatedly asked about money being exchanged, and during that a video came out of MPs taking money ahead of the 2018 Senate elections, so no one had any doubt," he said.
He noted that while the matter was being heard in the apex court, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) opposed open ballot, while the SC repeatedly said that it was the ECP's responsibility to conduct honest and transparent elections.
"All the parties of the PDM then united and said together that there should be secret ballot when they all said in the past that there should be open ballot.
"Now I ask all of you, what in your opinion was the reason [for their stance]?" Prime Minister Imran asked the nation. "These parties wanted an open ballot before, then why did they all now push for secret ballot?"
He said the opposition had termed open ballot against the Constitution and democracy but asked: "Was it not against the Constitution when they signed the Charter of Democracy? They had placed a bill in the Senate and said at that time that there should be open ballot."
He further said the opposition had planned to "use money" in the election contest between Yousuf Raza Gilani and Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. "Full effort was to be done to break our members and align them with [the opposition] by giving them money. And if somehow Hafeez Shaikh were to lose that election, what would that prove? That Imran Khan's majority in the parliament has finished," he added, saying in such a scenario, the opposition's next step would be to bring a vote of no confidence.
"So the real objective was to hang the sword of vote of confidence over me and blackmail me into somehow giving them NRO."
The prime minister said if the Senate elections had taken place through open ballot, the PTI "would have gotten as many seats as it has currently won. [The opposition] are behaving as if they have won some major battle, but we got the same seats; we are the biggest party in the Senate."
He said the opposition had done all the "drama" for the Islamabad seat, while Gilani was "distributing money and buying people's consciences". The premier revealed that some female members of the PTI had been offered millions of rupees in exchange for their votes by some old PTI worker.
Imran then addressed the ECP and said: "You have a big role, your biggest responsibility is [holding] honest and transparent elections.
"First I didn't understand why you went to court and said there should be secret ballot. Tell me does any constitution give the permission for stealing or giving bribes, which is what has happened for 30 years?"
He noted that the SC also gave an opportunity to the ECP to conduct the elections through secret ballot but have the ballot be identifiable. In such a mode, the premier said, the PTI would be able to identify its members "who were sold".
"You protected these criminals through secret ballot, you have damaged our democracy," he told the ECP. "Tell me what kind of democracy is this that one becomes a senator after giving money; is this democracy?"
Prime Minister Imran wondered what example was being set for the young population of Pakistan through the corrupt practices, citing leaked videos of alleged horse-trading being taken place ahead of the Senate polls.
He asked the ECP whether it had made any efforts after a 2018 video emerged showing lawmakers "putting money in bags", saying: "Did you not know that it was your responsibility to investigate? [You have] all the agencies under you, this spectacle unfolded in front of everyone."
The premier said he had warned in advance that rates were being set for lawmakers and the ECP was aware it would happen.
"When you were given the opportunity by the SC then what was the reason that you couldn't do barcoding on 1,500 ballots?" he asked the commission. "You gave a complete opportunity to discredit the country's democracy [and] damaged the country's morality and values."
He stressed that corruption was eliminated from a society when a nation worked together for it.
"I ask all of my nation that if you accept these dacoits, is it Imran Khan's responsibility alone to go after them? This is all of your's responsibility," he said, referring to opposition members.
He further told the people: "This is on you, do you want to take your country up or do you want to compromise with these thieves? We are here today because we accepted stealing and accepted thieves."
Prime Minister Imran said he would seek a vote of confidence from his party's lawmakers in the National Assembly on Saturday. "I am telling my members, this is your democratic right, you can say you don't stand with Imran Khan. I will respect you. Okay I am not competent or qualified, raise your hands and say this and I will go into opposition," he said, urging lawmakers who accept bribes to worry about their afterlife.
He then addressed the PDM leadership, saying: "I have one message, if my power goes, then what difference does it make? Did I make any factories or give big positions to my relatives? Have I bought big homes in Mayfair? I live in my own home, the only expense of the government on me is of travel and security.
"There will be no difference in my life if I'm not in power, but I have a message for all of you, whether I sit in opposition or am even outside of the assembly, I will not leave anyone of you until you return this country's money."
Imran said if he was outside the parliament, he would "bring out this nation's people", who he said will join him on the street to protect the country's stolen money.
"I will show you how to bring the public out, it makes no difference to my life.
"As long as I'm alive, for the supremacy of law in this country, I will keep challenging these people, whom I call traitors, who take money abroad after stealing. [...] I believe this country will become a great country and it will become so when all these dacoits are in jail."
Prime Minister Imran said ever since his government was formed, "all these corrupt people in the old political parties" feared that he would move forward on the corruption cases against them since he had run his election campaign on the agenda to eliminate corruption.
"I want to remind you that their corruption cases are old, we didn't make them, they are since their times, in our time only five per cent cases [have been started], while the rest are all old," he said, adding that the opposition had since then united to put pressure on the government. "All of them have one interest: to exert so much pressure on me that I raise my hands and, like Gen Musharraf, give them an NRO and end their corruption cases."
He said the opposition first tried to blackmail him over the 2018 elections, then during the coronavirus crisis and later on legislation related to the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Noting that Pakistan could be placed on the FATF's 'blacklist' if it didn't meet its requirements, the premier said the opposition had sought a virtual elimination of the National Accountability Bureau in exchange for supporting the bill.
Recounting his journey into politics, Prime Minister Imran said 50 years ago Pakistan's example was given and it a status in the world. "But I slowly saw our country going down, and the destruction after 1985 in this country, ever since corruption went sky-high [and] there was a non-party based election.
"Before that when I came from India to Pakistan after playing cricket it felt like coming from a poor country to a rich country but slowly we began to see that change," he added.
The premier said the theft carried out by a poor person troubled only a few people but the corruption of a developing country's prime minister or ministers made it indebted.
"We are not a poor country, God has given us everything, but no country can progress when the powerful sitting above are taking its money out," he emphasised.
Upset in Senate
After staging an upset in the Senate elections, the opposition parties have managed to retain their majority in the upper house of parliament and are now hopeful of getting the top offices of chairman and deputy chairman for which elections through secret balloting will be held on March 12.
As expected, a hung Senate emerged on 37 seats of the upper house of parliament as the opposition and the ruling alliances now have 53 and 47 members, respectively, in the (now) 100-member Senate.
Hours after the ruling coalition’s candidate Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh suffered defeat at the hands of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)'s joint candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani in a major upset, the government announced that Prime Minister Imran would seek a vote of confidence afresh from the National Assembly.
Rejected votes played a significant role in the upset with Gilani securing 169 votes as against 164 bagged by Shaikh, with the number of rejected votes exceeding the margin of victory.