A day after Prime Minister Imran Khan criticised the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for allowing "foul play" in the recent Senate elections, the commission issued a statement rejecting the "discussion and unhappiness" over the way polls for the upper house of parliament were conducted.
"It is a shocking matter that under the same staff in the same [election] under the same roof on the same day, [what they won] is acceptable and [what they lost] is unacceptable. Is this not open contradiction?" the commission questioned, adding: "The ECP rejects this."
The statement came after a meeting of the ECP was held to discuss the remarks made by the prime minister during an address to the nation yesterday 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.
During his address, the premier called out the electoral body for "protecting those who made money by holding the Senate elections through secret ballot".
In its statement, the ECP said: "This is democracy and free elections and the beauty of free elections which the entire nation saw and which is mandated by the Constitution."
Every political party and politician should have the courage to accept defeat, it said.
The electoral body said that if someone disagreed with the ECP's results, they should come forward with evidence.
"If we can listen to your recommendations, why can't we listen to your complaints? Do not sling mud at us. Have some consideration."
The ECP said the Senate elections were held according to the law and the Constitution and were conducted in a "good way". It said the statements and discussions that had come to the electoral body through media reports were "saddening", especially statements made by "some members of the federal cabinet and specifically what the prime minister said in his address yesterday".
The ECP iterated that it was a constitutional and independent institution. "[The ECP] has to see what the law and the Constitution allow and what the standard has to be. We cannot ignore the law and the Constitution or bring an amendment for anyone's favour," it added.
If someone has objections to the body's decisions or orders, it could take the constitutional way but let the institution work independently, the statement said.
"We have neither come under pressure from anybody and neither will we [do so in the future]."
Talking about its way of dealing with political parties, the ECP said that it listened to the opinion of any delegation that wanted to meet it and conducted a detailed analysis of its recommendations.
"The Election Commission listens to everyone but fulfils its obligations only according to what is written in the law and the Constitution."
The ECP further questioned why the government had not taken the issues it had pointed out to the parliament for legislation, stressing that the commission's job was not to legislate but to implement the law.
"If the constitutional institutions continue to be ridiculed in this way, it is tantamount to their (government's) weakness and not that of the ECP," it added.
'No need to be upset,' says minister
Addressing a press conference alongside Information Minister Shibli Faraz later in the day, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said that the PTI and the prime minister “immensely respect all of Pakistan’s institutions”, including the ECP.
He added, however, that “institutions show their neutrality and freedom through their actions, not press releases”.
The federal minister said that it was inappropriate for the ECP to issue a press release on the premier’s address, adding that the latter had said nothing wrong when he had held the ECP responsible for the failure to ensure transparency in the Senate elections.
“The responsibility to ensure transparency in the elections could not be fulfilled the way it should’ve been and horse-trading could not be prevented,” said Chaudhry.
“Now, there’s no need to be upset about it,” he told the ECP. “You should be a little ashamed over it and there is a need to take preventive measures,” he added, while clarifying that the premier had said that the government and the ECP must work together towards this goal. “It is important to devise a mechanism that can prevent rigging and ensure free and fair elections,” he said.
The federal minister said he had already offered to extend the cooperation of his ministry to the ECP and the chief election commissioner in devising those mechanisms such as traceable ballot papers which "except for you [ECP], no one else can see".
"Fair elections have always been a pillar of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan and [the] PTI's politics," said Chaudhry, adding that the premier had always called for neutrality of institutions in politics.
"No one wants to see the ECP stronger, more than us. I want to make the chief election commissioner and the members [of the ECP] believe that we want to see you and your character very strong."
He said he was "surprised" that the ECP had asked any aggrieved parties to come forward with evidence when, according to the federal minister, numerous evidences were already present from videos to PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz's speech saying, "our (PML-N) ticket has been sold."
"These are evidences themselves, you had to analyse them," he said, claiming that the ECP had not even given heed to the directions of the Supreme Court (SC).
"The directions of the SC are very clear [...] the ECP does have the right under article 218-220 to use technology and take measures to make elections fair, free of horse trading and credible."
The federal minister said he was "hopeful" that the ECP would reflect on its stance and "will not rely on press releases but will prove its neutrality and independence through its measures".
The information minister, meanwhile, blasted the opposition and said that Yousuf Raza Gilani should have "resigned from his candidacy the next day" after a video of his son, Ali Haider Gilani, surfaced where he is explaining to lawmakers how to cancel their votes.
"Their ticket has no worth", said Faraz, while referring to Maryam's claim and added that the notion had been "planted" to increase the PML-N's political capital.
He railed against the PPP and PML-N for allegedly erecting the traditions of "use of money, rigging and intimidation" in elections, adding that these obstacles to fair elections had turned Pakistan's character and society into a "culture of money".
"Money took the place of values."
The PTI, meanwhile, based its stance on a "moral basis", said Faraz, on the basis of which it expelled 20 members after the 2018 Senate elections. "A tradition which unfortunately no other party before that or until now has acted on."
The bill for amendment in the Senate elections being presented in parliament and the presidential reference seeking the opinion of the SC, were in the federal minister's opinion, attempts of the prime minister to give practical reality to his stance.
"Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken up the banner for the country and nation's rights and interests, which I call the force of light," said the federal minister, while claiming that the opposition alliance's Pakistan Democratic Movement had taken up the banner for "darkness".
Vote of confidence
Chaudhry also addressed tomorrow's vote of confidence in the National Assembly and said that members of the PTI were arriving in Islamabad and a parliamentary party meeting would be held shortly. "We didn't have any legal need for a vote of confidence but it is [Prime Minister] Imran Khan who makes these kinds of brave decisions."
He said it would have been a more "difficult task" for the opposition to bring their no-confidence motion, instead, the PTI had "raised our bar" by going forward with seeking the vote.
"The prime minister said that if we can't show over 172 people, then we don't have the right to be in government," said Chaudhry. "Hopefully tomorrow the PTI and its allies will fully give [Prime Minister] Imran Khan the vote of confidence".
The information minister, while speaking to the media after the parliamentary party meeting of the ruling government, said the members and allies of the government fully supported the prime minister and had reassured him about their standing behind him.
"I saw a new energy in all of the members who clapped a lot on every point of the prime minister [...] so we understand that all of our members were very energised on fulfilling the responsibility that [Prime Minister] Imran Khan has given to them."
He said that only two or three members had not attended the meeting, who had called and communicated their reasons for not doing so.
"Tomorrow is not far, the results will come and our full effort is that all members of ours will reach at 10am. [Prime Minister] Imran Khan will come out stronger than before."
He did say, however, that in case any member did not vote or abstained from the vote of confidence, then the "law is very clear" that a case of their disqualification would be merited.
"Why is the opposition running? Why do they have a complaint when according to the Constitution we are seeking a vote of confidence.
"They have a reservation about this too because their moral standing is compromised and they know [that]. They don't want that [Prime Minister] Imran Khan [goes ahead with the vote, because] no one will be able to stop him when he takes the vote of confidence."