• After SC verdict, grumbling commission sees its mandate to hold elections ‘under attack’
• Appeals process to continue until 10th, final lists of candidates to be published on April 18
• Official says institutions have tied commission’s hands by granting stays in contempt proceedings

ISLAMABAD: A day after the Supreme Court overruled the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and ordered it to hold elections to the Punjab Assembly on May 14, the commission announc­­ed the schedule for the polls.

Although it complied with the court’s order, the ECP expressed concerns over the ‘transgression’ into its constitutional domain and claimed that it had been made a “punching bag” by state institutions.

The revised schedule was issued in a notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn, citing the apex court’s order.

The commission stated that candidates had already filed their nomination papers and their scrutiny was completed before the ECP delayed the polls till October 8 in March. As per the revised schedule, the process will start from appeals against acceptance or rejection of nomination papers which can be filed by April 10, while the appellate tribunal will decide the appeals by April 17.

Revised lists of candidates for each constituency will be published on April 18, while candidates can withdraw their nominations by April 19.

Election symbols to the contesting candidates will be allotted on April 20, while polling for 297 general seats of the provincial assembly will be held on May 14.

‘Punching bag’

The ECP announced the schedule after holding a meeting, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, on Wednesday. In its verdict, the court had not only ordered the ECP to hold elections, but also issued a schedule and directed the commission to submit a compliance report by April 11.

However, even the explicit directives of the apex court have so far failed to clear the cloud of uncertainty looming over the polls. Since yesterday, the ruling coalition has minced no words in expressing its disapproval of the apex court’s verdict and refused to abide by it. There is still no clarity on whether the requisite funds and security personnel for holding the elections would be provided to the ECP or not.

Reacting to the apex court’s decision, a senior official of the ECP said the commission’s constitutional mandate to hold free, fair and transparent elections was under attack and the writ of the commission had been weakened, the official added.

While talking to Dawn, the official regretted that the commission had been made “a punching bag” by different institutions.

“Conspiracies have been hatched and the ECP, along with its head have been publicly ridiculed,” he remarked.

He added that the Elections Act, 2017 has empowered the commission to try those involved in contempt of the ECP. But the subsequent action of institutions diluted the commission’s authority.

A malignant campaign was launched against the commission and its head who, the official claimed, also received written threats.

The official added that show-cause notices were issued over contemptuous remarks and the use of intemperate language against the ECP. “But instead of recognising the constitutional position of the ECP, the courts granted stays against the notices.”

“We were told to continue with the proceedings, but restrained from passing a final order,” he said.

The arrest warrants of those accused of contempt were suspended, weakening the constitutional position of the ECP, the official told Dawn.

He said those who allegedly committed the contempt did not appear before the bench as they were “certain of the support from certain quarters”.

“A constitutional institution was being made helpless under a preconceived plan, putting a question mark on the holding of fair and transparent elections”, he remarked.

Referring to the Daska by-poll in February 2021, the official added that 20 presiding officers disappeared under a plan to manipulate the poll results.

He added that the ECP took a historic decision to uphold the transparency of elections and make bureaucracy answerable to the commission.

He recalled that two separate inquiries found that senior police and district administration officials knew “what was going on but still allowed the scheme to unfold”.

One of the inquiries found that election officials and government functionaries acted as “puppets” during the saga.

The official said action was initiated against the culprits, but instead of supporting the commission, other institutions suspended the order and granted stays.

Amjad Mahmood in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2023

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