Railways Minister Azam Swati on Monday said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja was speaking the opposition's language to "mess around" with the government, which was standing its ground like an "iron wall".
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad alongside Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, Swati said: "Today, you [the CEC] are speaking the opposition's language ... and messing around with the government. We are standing as an iron wall so stop us if you can."
He said the government had to swallow a "bitter pill" on the CEC's appointment to preserve the sanctity of this "constitutional institution", referring to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). "I don't want to and won't reveal how you [CEC] were appointed," Swati said.
"If we didn't respect the ECP, we would have never appointed you," he said, adding that the government confirmed his appointment to abide by the Constitution and protect the ECP's dignity despite knowing that he was allegedly close with the Sharifs.
Swati said the government only wanted uncontroversial, fair and free elections and a system which "future generations can't point fingers at".
He questioned why the CEC had made no progress on pilot programmes as ordered previously by the Supreme Court or the parliament through the Elections Act 2017.
"I again remind you Sikandar Sultan Raja sahab that only the one who accepts defeat, loses. Come and see whether the law and the Constitution are greater or your own being."
The railways minister continued to lash out at the CEC and asked him on "whose instructions are you destroying such a great institution".
"I, this nation and overseas Pakistanis want to ask you this."
Regarding the notice sent to him by the ECP for his tirade against the institution, Swati questioned how many such similar notices had been sent to other political leaders from the opposition.
Responding to a question on whether the government was ready to sit down with the ECP, Swati clarified: "We don't have a quarrel with the ECP but with Raja Sultan."
According to the railways minister, the entire purpose of the press conference was to send this message: "Raja sahab you cannot violate the law or the Constitution [...] When the parliament passes its voice through a law then under the leadership of [Prime Minister] Imran Khan, we will [bring] a fantastic [electoral] system.
"You will buy the [electronic voting] machines and you will also do work. We will go to the Supreme Court if we need to."
The ECP and the government have been at loggerheads recently as the latter wants to introduce electronic voting machines in the country but the commission has resisted the move, raising a number of objections to their use.
Following objections by the ECP, Swati had lashed out at the commission on Sep 10, accusing it of "always" rigging polls, adding that such institutions should be “set on fire”. He had followed it up with a press conference with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry later in the day where they criticised the CEC.
In response to this diatribe, the ECP sent notices to the two ministers to provide back their claims up with evidence.
Chaudhry continued the blistering attack in a press conference on Sunday (yesterday) where he called for the CEC to step down and asked two ECP members to review his decisions.
'We are ready to further move forward for the opposition'
Meanwhile, Awan said that as per the prime minister's instructions himself, "we are ready to further move forward for the opposition."
He said there was a meeting with opposition members last week in which they said that the government needed to work on confidence-building measures. According to Awan, the opposition had called for a joint parliamentary committee to discuss electoral reforms.
"The government, the prime minister, [the Ministry] of Parliamentary Affairs and our allies are ready for that."
Awan said a motion would be moved in the National Assembly (NA) and once it was approved, the NA speaker and Senate chairman would be requested to form the committee.
“The government will once again invite the opposition to negotiations and make them a part of reforms through this committee to solve a very big problem of this nation — electoral rigging and to make elections acceptable,” he said.
"Because this is their right, [we] won't be doing a favour."
However, he said, that it was not possible that no progress was made on electoral reforms between 2017 and 2021 and the government stood idly by.
Awan added that it also was not possible that the prime minister abandons his electoral promise to overseas Pakistanis.
The adviser said the government was moving forward on electoral reforms and i-voting, adding there was an "unsuccessful effort" underway to create a controversy about them and create a perception that the incumbent government was talking about electronic voting machines (EVMs) to rig the next elections.
Rubbishing that claim, he recounted how the suggestion of EVMs had been raised during past governments as well.
"Why is anyone afraid of the machine? It will stop rigging."