• Commission to seek evidence from Fawad, Swati, calls record from Pemra, other offices
• Minister wonders if an ‘incomplete ECP’ can issue notices, question parliamentary proceedings
• Hearing of cases against Vawda today

ISLAMABAD: While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday rejected all the accusations levelled against it by two federal ministers and decided to issue notices to them seeking evidence of the bribe it had allegedly received, the government refused to back down, with one of the two ministers asking if an ‘incomplete election commission’ could issue such notices.

The controversy over the government’s decision to introduce electronic voting machines despite all the objections raised by the opposition parties as well as the ECP flared up into a head-on confrontation last week when federal Minister for Railways Azam Swati accused the ECP of receiving bribes and rigging the elections before saying “such institutions should be set on fire”.

At a meeting held here on Tuesday with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja in the chair, the ECP decided to summon relevant record from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as well as record pertaining to a meeting held at Aiwan-i-Sadr, proceedings of the Senate’s standing committee on parliamentary committee and last week’s presser by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry after Mr Swati had launched into a tirade against the commission.

Before voting on two controversial bills seeking to amend the elections act, the federal minister for railways at last week’s meeting of the Senate committee had accused the ECP of ‘receiving bribes’ and ‘rigging the elections’. He went on to add that such institutions should be set ablaze. Hours later, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry addressing a presser called the CEC ‘the mouthpiece of the opposition’ and alleged the commission had turned into opposition’s headquarters.

Soon after the ECP made TV headlines with its decisions to call record and issue notices to the two ministers, Mr Chaudhry said he wondered if proceedings of a parliamentary committee could be called into question.

The information minister asserted that a detailed response would be given whenever a notice was served to them.

Targeting the CEC rather than the institution this time, Mr Chaudhry said respect for the ECP as an institution aside, those who disliked comments on political role of personalities must review their own conduct and keep it apolitical. He said individuals could make objectionable mistakes that were “not meant against the institution”. He insisted he had not levelled allegations against anybody.

However, during a TV talk show, the minister raised the question if an ‘incomplete’ election commission could issue such notices. He said he also wondered whether a parliamentary committee’s proceedings could be questioned.

Senior vice president of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and federal Minister Azam Swati had made the caustic remarks only days after the ECP had raised 37 objections to government’s plan to introduce voting machines for the next general elections.

His views during the Senate committee meeting had prompted the ECP team to walk out in protest, while committee members belonging to the PTI-led ruling coalition had left the meeting after the chair turned down their request to allow Senator Samina Mumtaz, who did not turn up, to join and vote on the amendment bills through a video link.

In the absence of the treasury bench members, the Senate committee rejected the proposed amendments concerning use of voting machines and voting rights for overseas Pakistanis in the next general elections and those related to holding of Senate polls through the open ballot.

The happenings of the day allowed the opposition to take on the government for what it said “attempts to pressurise and control the ECP”. The government, however, continued with their tirade against the commission vowing to get the amendments in the elections act passed through a joint session of the parliament.

Meanwhile, the ECP issued a revised cause list for Wednesday (today), with the application filed by the PTI seeking perusal of the accounts of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PP) for a meaningful scrutiny on top of the list of cases fixed before a two-member ECP bench. Other cases fixed for hearing include two petitions seeking disqualification of former federal minister and PTI leader Faisal Vawda as a lawmaker and another seeking to implead him as a party.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Awami National Party (ANP) and PPP will visit ECP offices and meet CEC today (Wednesday) to express solidarity with the commission.

The delegation will comprise parliamentary leader of the PPP in the upper house of parliament Senator Sherry Rehman, former chairman of Senate Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari, Secretary General of the PPP Farhatullah Babar and ANP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter President Aimal Wali Khan. They will also address a press conference after the meeting.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2021

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