Suspicious revisions

Published July 9, 2024

FOR an institution that frequently relies on rigid interpretations of rules and laws, particularly when dealing with the affairs of one particular political party, it is rather disconcerting how routinely disdainful the ECP is when it comes to rules and regulations applying to its own conduct. According to a recent discovery by an NGO, confirmed by this publication after an independent review, dozens of critical election results that had been shared by the Commission officially on a public drive were quietly ‘updated’ late last week. It was subsequently discovered that a total of 41 Form 45 results for national and provincial assembly constituencies in Punjab and KP had been modified by the Commission on the official Google Drive managed by it. The authority has thus far not provided a satisfactory explanation as to why these changes were made or why so many changes pertained to constituencies in the city of Lahore in particular. It appears that a recent finding from Pattan-Coalition 38, the NGO in question, flagging the absence of Form 45 documents for 21 different Lahore constituencies was what prompted the ECP to make the changes, even though it had initially dismissed the report as ‘baseless.’

But can this be so easily written off as an ‘honest mistake’, as one ECP official has insisted? The polls conducted in Punjab attracted the most controversy following the general election conducted by the ECP on Feb 8, and it has been discovered that many of the recently ‘updated’ results pertain to seats that have been challenged by losing contestants. This is deeply troubling. Additionally, it is worth highlighting that the Commission had previously blocked the formation of new election tribunals for Punjab for weeks till it was ‘rescued’ by new legislation empowering it to move cases between tribunals and appoint retired judges of its own choosing to head new tribunals. The Supreme Court recently had to intervene and force the ECP to consult the new LHC chief justice on the issue, but the appointment of desperately needed tribunals for Punjab remains a pending matter. These actions and other reasons have given rise to valid concerns regarding the ECP’s commitment to transparency and fairness in all poll-related matters. The ECP may be a constitutional body, but that cannot mean it has carte blanche to continue doing as it pleases.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2024

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