Ministers prod ECP individuals into challenging their chief

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ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be a move to make a rift within the committee of Pakistan (ECP) during a renewed onslaught after the controversial remarks by a minister about setting fire to such institutions, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Sunday asked two ECP members “to review” the choices of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja.

“I would really like to ask the 2 members of the ECP to return forward and review the choices of the CEC,” said federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry while speaking at a press conference with federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz at the press information department.

Mr Chaudhry asked the 2 ECP members “to review” the CEC’s decisions, after criticising the latter for opposing electoral reforms, including the utilization of electronic voting machines within the next polls. He was of the opinion that because the members from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had not been appointed, the ECP was incomplete and it shouldn’t make fundamental decisions like delimitation of the constituencies.

While reacting to the newest presser of federal ministers against the ECP, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and therefore the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accused the PTI government of trying to blackmail the ECP and demanded “punitive action” against those “inciting the ECP members against the CEC”.

Fawad asks CEC to quit

The information minister told the press conference the PTI government had serious “reservations” over the CEC’s conduct and asked the CEC to step down from his position over his “political” role.

“Both the opposition and therefore the CEC are using an equivalent language,” Mr Chaudhry said while pertaining to dozens of ECP’s objections to the proposed electoral reforms.

“The politicians can talk on issues openly and that they are even criticised … but the judiciary and therefore the ECP shouldn’t portray themselves as opposition leader,” the minister said while accusing the CEC of being a neighborhood of the campaign to “discredit” the govt plan for introducing voting machines.

The minister alleged the ECP had ‘excluded’ all the supporting arguments in favour of voting machines within the report that carried information from other countries like the Philippines, Estonia and therefore the Dominican Republic and their positive experiences with the machines.

He explained that voters’ trust in elections within the Philippines increased from 35 per cent in 2007 to 75pc and 89pc within the 2010 and 2019 elections, respectively, after the introduction of voting machines. He said as many as 1,000 election-related petitions were filed within the Philippines in 2007 and their number reduced to only 11 in 2019 thanks to the utilization of voting machines. He was of the opinion that conditions within the Philippines and Pakistan were similar.

“The way the positive material was excluded (from the report) shows it clearly that the CEC, for a purpose, is against the (electoral) reforms,” the minister argued.

Warning that the govt had thus far been exhibiting “restraint”, Mr Chaudhry asked the CEC “to distance himself from “disputed things” in line with the need of his position. “If he [CEC] doesn’t want to remain faraway from controversies and believes that he can contribute in politics, then he should resign and begin doing politics,” he said.

ECP notice

“We are exhibiting great restraint whereas the ECP sent us a notice,” said the minister pertaining to the notices sent to him and Minister for Railways Azam Swati by the ECP over their recent outbursts against the state institution.

Mr Chaudhry said they might have filed a contempt petition against the CEC for refusing to implement the Supreme Court clear directives to use technology within the Senate elections held in March.

“Give me an example where state institutions leave the president’s meeting or the parliamentary board meeting is that this a rustic or a banana republic?” said the minister while pertaining to the recent walkouts of the ECP members from the meetings persisted the voting machines controversy.

“The federal cabinet is tolerating all this patiently . Even personal attacks were made, but we didn’t take any action,” he said.

At the outset of the presser, Mr Chaudhry explained that he represented the cupboard and being official spokesperson he “says whatever is that the thinking of the government”.

He categorically declared that subsequent elections would be held only after the reforms which the govt would get the election laws passed from the joint session of the parliament. He maintained it had been the responsibility of the parliament to make a decision the method of conducting elections and therefore the ECP should respect the choice .

Next polls only after reforms

“We can’t leave everything and choose the 2028 [election]. The 2023 general elections are going to be supported and only possible after reforms — there’s no other way [possible]except this,” the minister declared.

Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz termed all the objections raised by the ECP to the proposed voting machines “invalid”.

He said the ECP gave an inventory of 37 objections and 27 of them were associated with the incapacity of the ECP itself to carry elections in such manner.

He alleged that the ECP was deliberately using ‘delay tactics’ in order that voting machines couldn’t be utilized in the approaching elections.

“Why didn’t the ECP take any step to use voting machines in around 10 by-elections held in recent months,” he asked while pertaining to the Elections Act 2017.

He said the “national decision” couldn’t be taken or hindered as per “someone’s willingness”.

The minister said regardless of like or dislike of anyone, voting machines should be wont to conduct the overall elections in 2023.

Replying to an issue the knowledge minister said some opposition members had recently met National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser who tried to get rid of the misconceptions. He claimed that the govt wanted to require opposition along within the decision-making process. the govt also wanted the Speaker’s committee to become functional, he added.

Opposition reaction

Seeking “strong punitive action” against the federal ministers, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said they were “attempting to blackmail the ECP and inciting the members of the commission against the CEC”.

“(Prime Minister) Imran Khan has created this complete fiasco only to pressure the ECP and blackmail it to offer a choice in his favour within the illegal foreign funding case,” she alleged.

Ms Aurangzeb demanded that strict action must be taken under Article 10 of the Election Act against the few ministers for “attacking” the ECP while sitting at the press information department only because they didn’t have any answers to valid objections raised by the ECP.

“Inciting the members of the ECP against the CEC is treason and an attack on constitutional institutions,” she said.

Attempt to tarnish ECP’s image

In a separate statement, PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said the ministers had lost their temper after receiving notices from the ECP.

“Earlier, the ECP was threatened to be assail fire by a sitting federal minister and now an organised campaign is being launched to form the constitutional body controversial,” said the senator.

“The government is trying to tarnish the ECP’s reputation so as to rig subsequent general elections,” he said, adding that commission had opposed the unilateral decision of the govt to use voting machines and raised serious concerns at the hearing of Senate’s committee .

“The government ministers are accusing the CEC to isolate him and make his position controversial,” he said while recalling that this CEC had been nominated by the ruling PTI leadership itself.

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