THE PTI government’s attacks on the Election Commission of Pakistan are getting more scathing by the day. On Monday, Railways Minister Azam Swati unleashed a verbal offensive against the chief election commissioner and crossed the line of decorum. The same minister had last week indicated that the ECP should be set on fire.

A day earlier, ministers Fawad Chaudhry and Shibli Faraz had also targeted the ECP and its chief for criticism and had accused him of toeing the opposition’s line. It is fairly obvious that these are choreographed, orchestrated and synchronised attacks on the commission and they have a clear outcome in mind. This outcome may or may not have anything to do with the various ministers’ verbalised desires that the chief election commissioner should resign, but it does point towards an obvious government intent to drag the commission and its chief’s name through mud and make it controversial.

Read: PTI govt's battles with media, ECP make evident its unwillingness to accept a view other than its own

This is dangerous brinkmanship which can rattle the foundations of the constitutional system that holds the national structure together. Such brinkmanship is being fuelled by incendiary rhetoric as well as inflexible demands of a unilateral nature. Nothing illustrates this approach more than the government’s hardening position on the use of electronic voting machines. It is perplexing that the PTI is insisting on using these machines in the next elections when logic and reason dictate that any electoral reform must be the result of a consensus between all those who will be participating in the elections. This is a self-evident principle for any act that involves more than two participants and entails them agreeing on the rules that would accord legitimacy to the said act.

The government appears to have cast aside this principle knowing full well — one assumes — that the other participants, namely the opposition, will not play by the electoral rules as framed by the EVM issue. This means the next general elections are already under a cloud. More so when we factor in the statement by Planning Minister Asad Umar that these elections will be held on the basis of a census which for now is nowhere on the horizon. This being the case, we may be looking at a scenario where the general elections due in 2023 will either be severely controversial, and possibly unacceptable, or may not be able to take place until these controversies are resolved. Does the PTI government realise it is putting the entire system at stake by resorting to such dangerous and unnecessary brinkmanship?

Pakistan’s democracy cannot afford such jolts. It has traversed a rough and bumpy road to reach where it is and no person or party should be allowed to reverse this progress. All stakeholders need to come together to somehow save the system from further collision. Everything must be done to make the next elections free, fair and transparent in the true sense.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2021

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