ECP will always make decisions 'fearlessly', vows CEC Raja

Published June 1, 2022
Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja at the oath-taking ceremony of two new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja at the oath-taking ceremony of two new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja on Wednesday said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is "always ready for elections" as he stressed it will continue to make decisions without fear.

"The election commission makes its decisions fearlessly and it will continue to do so. If anyone is displeased by or disagrees with the decisions, it's their problem," he said during an informal talk with reporters following the administration of oath to two new members of the ECP. He was asked to respond to allegations of bias against the electoral watchdog.

The CEC said that "everyone is our friend" and the ECP makes decisions according to the law and Constitution.

The PTI has accused Raja and the election commission of bias, with former prime minister Imran Khan frequently calling on him to resign. On May 11, the party announced plans to file a reference against Raja, with Fawad Chaudhry saying the "biggest political party had lost trust in him".

On April 16, PTI leader and former human rights minister Dr Shireen Mazari had blamed the ECP for what she said was his "bias" against the party, a day after the commission had announced that would hold daily hearings of the foreign funding case against the PTI. Three days later, Imran had claimed that Raja's name for the CEC office was suggested by the establishment.

The former prime minister had alleged that Raja's name was proposed by the establishment after a deadlock between the then-government and the opposition, suggesting the chief election commissioner should be appointed through an independent body.

Imran had stated that the PTI would file a reference against the CEC, as the ECP had displayed “incompetence” by not completing the delimitation of constituencies on time, which delayed early elections.

At a rally held in Lahore on April 21, the PTI chairman had reiterated allegations of Raja being biased, stating that his leanings were so obvious that "he should be given a PML-N office position".

He had gone on to demand CEC Raja's resignation on April 23, when he had said at a press conference at his Banigala residence that the PTI did not trust the CEC because all his decisions were against the party.

On April 26, the PTI had staged protests outside ECP offices across the country.

Meanwhile, CEC Raja had maintained that he was working in the best interest of the country and that there was no reason for him to resign.

For their part, the PML-N and PPP had accused the PTI chairperson of attacking state institutions to get decisions of his choice.

'ECP always ready for elections'

In his conversation with reporters today, the CEC was asked about general elections, to which he replied the ECP is "always ready for the elections" and it is the government that has to decide about new polls. "The ECP's job is to hold transparent and fair elections," he said, adding that work on the delimitation of constituencies is being carried out swiftly.

He added that the final delimitation is not possible before the issuance of census results officially.

"The ECP has a clear stance on the census," he said, adding that the results of the 2017 census were released in May 2021 and the demarcation of boundaries for constituencies was started after that.

The CEC recalled that a constitutional amendment was introduced with regard to delimitation and elections in 2018.

"The government now wants a digital census and delimitation can be completed on time if its results are released by December 2022," he said. "If the results are delayed, the election will be held on the basis of the 2017 census."

To a question about why the ECP had not made any progress on the resignations of PTI lawmakers — who had walked out of the National Assembly session ahead of the election of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with party leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi announcing the PTI MNAs were resigning en masse — the CEC replied that former deputy speaker Qasim Suri had not referred the case to the ECP.

In reply to a question about the foreign funding case, he said the case proceedings were under way.

"It is necessary to give an opportunity to all parties for clarification," he said.

Oath-taking

Earlier, the CEC administered the oath to two new members of the ECP.

Justice (retd) Ikramullah Khan was sworn in as the ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Babr Hassan Bharwana as the member from Punjab.

'ECP has practically suspended Article 224'

Later, PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry railed against the ECP over delays in notification of members on reserved seats in the Punjab Assembly that had fallen vacant earlier this month after a total of 25 PTI dissident lawmakers were de-seated for backing PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz in the Punjab chief minister's election in April.

Speaking to the media in Lahore, Chaudhry said by not notifying the members, the "ECP has practically suspended Article 224 of the Constitution, which is very clear and states that once a member on a reserved seat is disqualified, the next person [in order of precedence] from the party list [of the candidates] is automatically notified".

Chaudhry said it had been more than a week since the members on reserved seats were de-seated, but the ECP was yet to notify new members on the vacant seats.

He said once new members were notified on the seats, Hamza would lose his majority and this was why there was a delay.

"So the entire system is now working to keep an illegitimate man on the chief minister's position," Chaudhry added. "And this has led to a crisis."

He also questioned whether the ECP, in its current shape, as nominated by Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Raja Riaz, be able to make any moral decisions.

"Who will accept this ECP?" he questioned, adding that it had to be replaced. "How can you hold an election with this ECP?"

The PTI leader also said the PTI was ready to sit and talk with the PML-N and PPP — the two major parties in the current coalition government — to discuss the terms and framework for new elections.

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