PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Monday that the most important and fundamental aspect for stopping electoral rigging was to stamp out the role of the establishment in elections, adding that elections would continue to be controversial no matter how much legislation was done if the establishment had an active role in the electoral process.
Addressing a press conference in Karachi flanked by other party leaders, the PPP chairman said that while there was need for legislation and transitional reforms in the electoral process, "the most important and fundamental aspect for stopping rigging in elections — legislation is certainly one aspect — is the role of the establishment in elections.
"If the establishment has an active role in the electoral process then no matter how much legislation we do, the elections will remain controversial."
He said that if the establishment could be kept at bay from the elections and if they could adopt an "impartial and apolitical attitude", then there would be benefit to electoral reforms and reduction to rigging in elections.
Bilawal added that no "active participatory role" of the establishment had been observed in the NA-249 by-election in Karachi and therefore "we would want, not only that we do legislation but also build on the consensus that the there is no interference of the establishment in electoral politics."
Addressing a question on the PML-N's demand to hand over the NA-249 polling boxes to the army's custody, he said that if the PML-N had any reservations on the by-poll results, then the relevant forums and methods were present for them to use and called on it to look to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
"Don't appeal to the army, we don't want that the PML-N has lost one seat so it is now appealing for the army to interfere in the electoral process.
"We think this is not only disadvantageous for the electoral process when the army has a role [...] we think not only are elections made controversial due to this but unnecessarily the Pakistan Army is also made controversial due to this," said Bilawal, adding that if it had the polling process in its control then if anyone had any complaint, they would start lobbing criticism on an institution which should be "uncontroversial [and] apolitical".
The PPP chairman said he did not support the PML-N's demand and called it "irresponsible". "PML-N should seriously think whether their stance is only due to individual issues or do they want to take a principled stance."
"Elections will be uncontroversial and fair and transparent when we can 100 per cent guarantee that establishment will have no interference."
He said the PPP had consistently worked on electoral reforms and "we think there is great need that we don't want a repetition of the rigging done in 2018 and before," adding that the PPP was ready to do any reform which needed to be done.
"The ECP can play a big and important role in this to engage political parties and gain their input. As far as the government is concerned, no one takes its stance seriously," said Bilawal. adding that it was a "strange concept" that the PPP attempts to sit and stop rigging with "the one who does rigging".
Earlier in the day, PTI leaders provided details on proposed electoral reforms in the country that would ensure transparency in the democratic process and level the playing field for all parties.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan had explained that 49 sections in the Elections Act 2017 were being introduced, deleted or amended. Some of the reforms included enabling the use of Electronic Voting Machines, extending voting rights to overseas Pakistanis and changes related to political parties.
'Criminal political negligence'
During the presser, Bilawal also lashed out at the PML-N and accused it of "making excuses" and "backing out" from pursuing a no-confidence motion against the government in Punjab and the Centre despite agreeing in the founding document of the Pakistan Democratic Movement to use democratic and parliamentary weapons against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Prime Minister Imran Khan.
He reiterated that the PPP thought the opposition should oppose the government and its policies instead of engaging in opposition with each other. He questioned why the PML-N did not challenge CM Buzdar despite having the majority votes in Punjab.
"This is criminal political negligence that for three years, despite having such a big vote [bank], the PML-N didn't once try to make the government difficult for (CM) Buzdar," he said, adding that the PPP felt that maybe they had a covert deal with the government.
He said the PPP had shown the way on how they could take the Centre through Punjab "but you're not interested so you will have to answer for this."
Bilawal also addressed other topics and said the PPP was criticised too much on the issue of local bodies when Sindh was the only province to complete a term of its local bodies. "The coming local body elections will show, we are working on our law and local governments because we want them to have more power and resources so their own revenue generation is bolstered."
Bilawal was also questioned again on the reports of evictions by Bahria Town authorities in Karachi and responded that all activities had been halted and he still awaited a report on a the matter. He reiterated the call for what he described as Sindh's money, according to the Bahria Town Karachi case settlement, to be released so it could be spent on Malir and resolving issues such as structural drainage problems.
The PPP chairman also made note of the difficulties that journalists faced and said it was their right to receive their wages on time. Bilawal also talked at length about the Benazir Mazdoor Card and explained its benefits, the ideals of the PPP for launching it and the future path which was envisaged for it such as increasing its ambit to labour working in informal, private and agriculture sectors.