ECP summons Swati over his caustic remarks

Published October 13, 2021
Railways Minister Azam Swati addresses a press conference in Lahore in this file photo. — APP
Railways Minister Azam Swati addresses a press conference in Lahore in this file photo. — APP

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has summoned senior vice president of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati to appear before the ECP on October 21 and explain his caustic remarks against the commission.

Informed sources told Dawn that the decision was taken at an ECP meeting held here, with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja in the chair, in continuation of an earlier sitting in which legal options for initiating contempt proceedings against two federal ministers, the other being Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, for their recent onslaught on the commission and the CEC had been discussed as both cabinet members had failed to submit replies to the ECP notices within the stipulated time.

While issuing notices to Mr Swati and Mr Chaudhry on Sept 16, the commission had asked them to provide within seven days evidence of the allegations they had levelled against the ECP and the CEC. The senior vice president of the PTI had ignored the notice, whereas Mr Chaudhry who had sought six more weeks to respond to the notice was granted three weeks, ending on Oct 19, according to a source.

Decides to review electoral rolls’ revision on a weekly basis

This was not the first time when the ECP faced strong criticism and serious allegations from the ruling PTI as the commission after the March Senate polls, too, had advised the party to stop mudslinging and come up with evidence if it had any objections to the constitutional requirements, declaring that the institution would not succumb to any pressure.

In a renewed onslaught on the ECP, Minister Swati on Sept 10 said such institutions should be set on fire after accusing the commission of taking “bribes and always rigging” polls. He also alleged that the ECP was “poking fun at the government” and “trying to ruin the democracy”.

The allegations were made only days after the ECP had objected to the government’s unilateral decision of introducing electronic voting machines in the next general elections. A fresh blistering attack on the ECP was launched the same evening when Minister Chaudhry, accompanied by Mr Swati and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan, accused the ECP of becoming opposition’s headquarters alleging that the CEC was acting as a “mouthpiece of the opposition”.

Mr Chaudhry alleged that the CEC had played politics of ‘stupid’ objections to voting machines. “If they want to do politics, then response will come,” he warned.

The ECP finally on Sept 16 issued notices to Mr Chaudhry and Mr Swati, seeking evidence regarding the allegations and provocative statements. Just three days later, in what appeared to be a move to create a rift within the ECP, Mr Chaudhry asked two ECP members “to review” decisions of the CEC. Next day the government ramped up the criticism and singled out the CEC, with Mr Swati warning him not to “mess around” with the government. In his renewed tirade, Mr Swati accompanied by the PM’s aide Babar Awan raised questions over the CEC’s appointment.

Electoral rolls

Meanwhile, the ECP on Tuesday decided to review the process of electoral rolls revision on a weekly basis as the process for door-to-door verification of voters according to an ECP official had already been initiated.

The official told Dawn confusion had been caused due to incomplete addresses of voters in the CNICs and flawed census blocks and maps. However, he pointed out, the 2018 general elections and subsequent by-elections had been held on the basis of same electoral rolls without any controversy.

The Tuesday’s meeting was attended by all the provincial election commissioners via video link who briefed the CEC on revision of electoral rolls and door-to-door verification campaign.

The CEC directed the provincial election commissioners to personally supervise the process of voter lists’ revision in liaison with Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and respective district administration in case of any ambiguity so that determination of correct census block codes could be ensured.

He said the deletion of names of deceased voters from the electoral rolls must also be ensured.

An official recalled that the ECP had shifted names of around 15 million voters enrolled in areas other than their addresses on computerised national identity cards to their permanent addresses in 2019. The step was taken after the voters failed to confirm to the ECP where they wanted to be registered as voters by the end of 2018.

Under Section 27 of the Elections Act, the official explained, a person would be deemed to be resident of an electoral area if his temporary or permanent address on their CNIC issued by the National Database and Registration Authority lay in the said electoral area.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2021

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