Undermining the ECP

Published March 23, 2022

THE PTI government remains adamant in defying the Election Commission of Pakistan at every step. The row over the mode of voting in last year’s Senate elections set the government on a collision course with the ECP, and since then, the institutional relationship remains scarred by repeated disagreements.

The government was insistent on the use of electronic voting machines as well as enfranchising overseas Pakistanis for the next general elections, even when the ECP had stated in clear and unambiguous terms that these reforms could not be undertaken without due diligence and within the short time period available. The government rejected these objections and went ahead with issuing an ordinance.

A similar controversy is playing out on the campaign for local bodies elections. The ECP’s rules made it clear that the prime minister and cabinet ministers were not allowed to campaign because this would give them undue advantage over those in the opposition as the government functionaries can use state resources in such campaigns.

The government objected to these rules and then proceeded to issue an ordinance allowing these government officials to take part in the campaign. The matter is now in court but the PM and his ministers are openly defying the ECP by holding campaign rallies in these areas. This amounts to a deliberate undermining of the ECP’s authority. The ECP has done the right thing by issuing notices to the PM and his ministers and slapping penalties on them, but sadly, it appears that the government could not care less.

Such a brazen disregard of the ECP’s rules and deliberate defiance of the fact that the matter awaits a court decision, means that the government has decided to barrel ahead regardless of the consequences. For a government and its PM to adopt such a reckless attitude towards other institutions of the state, and to defy the ECP’s orders without a care for the damage incurred, is worrying.

Governments are expected to uphold the sanctity of state institutions and set an example by following the law in both letter and spirit. The last thing a government should be doing is to bully its way through a disagreement.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the approach that the PM has adopted. It may give the government misplaced satisfaction that comes with self-assertion, but it weakens the rule of law and the constitutional structure that binds state institutions into a formal governance framework. The ECP is trying hard to protect its turf, but it should not have to undergo this test. The government should know better. It appears that it does not. The only way out is for the courts to issue a clear and unambiguous order that stops the government from damaging the rule of law and further undermining the writ of the ECP. The country cannot afford this institutional clash.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2022

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