EVEN judging by the uncivil levels to which political discourse has sunk in recent years, the ugly outburst by railways minister and PTI senior vice president Azam Swati on Friday has few precedents.
During a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, called for discussion and voting on two key election-related bills, the senior PTI leader launched into a tirade accusing the ECP of taking bribes and “always” rigging polls. He also alleged that the ECP was poking fun at the government and attempting to harm democracy. Such institutions, he thundered, should be set on fire. The two ECP members present on the occasion walked out in protest. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry added more fuel to the fire later by echoing some of the aspersions.
Mr Swati has disgraced himself by his odious remarks against a constitutional body mandated to oversee elections in the country, and the PTI high command must take notice lest his claims and that of the information minister be construed as the party’s own stance. The ECP members are selected through a formal procedure aiming at a consensus between the government and the opposition; they are not imposed on either side.
Moreover, by trying to make the ECP controversial, that too when critical electoral reforms are under discussion, the minister himself could justifiably be accused of trying to harm democracy. Interestingly, it was just a few days ago the ECP listed 37 objections against using electronic voting machines in the next general election, objections that senior PTI leaders dismissed in no uncertain terms. Perhaps the minister’s animus springs from the ECP having taken an unequivocal position on a method of voting whose viability it does not have faith in, at least for the 2023 election, but which is heavily favoured by the PTI? Or does what happened in the Daska by-poll earlier this year still rankle certain sections of the party? It may be recalled that the commission had declared the result — a victory for the PTI candidate — null and void after finding it had been falsely obtained, and ordered a re-election that the PML-N candidate won.
An independent and impartial ECP is in the interest of all parties desirous of at least a relatively controversy-free election in a landscape where various factors make that a monumentally difficult task. The commission should be lauded for having stood for the rule of law despite its decisions sometimes inviting the authorities’ displeasure. For instance, in August 2019, the then chief election commissioner refused to administer the oath of office to two newly appointed ECP members on the grounds that their appointment was unconstitutional. A few months later, his stance was vindicated when the Islamabad High Court suspended the presidential order appointing them. The entire political class, whatever their differences, must refrain from unseemly diatribes against the ECP.
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2021