Rigging charges against judiciary causing anxiety among officers

Source:  Dawn.com Published in Justice on Monday, August 11, 2014

Following the retirement of Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in Dec 2013, leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, including its chairman Imran Khan, have been accusing him and the judicial officers – who had served as district returning officers (DROs) and returning officers (ROs) in May 2013 general elections – of playing a vital role in rigging the polls. One major objection raised by them was that the (then) chief justice of Pakistan had kept the ROs under his influence and addressed them on different occasions prior to the elections in the four provinces.

While the ex-CJ has served a legal notice on Mr Khan and refuted all the allegations leveled against him, the version of the judicial officers has been ignored altogether in this issue. Background interaction with some of the judicial officers, who had served as ROs, revealed that they mostly believed that they had been dragged into this controversy unnecessarily and maligned for political reasons by PTI.

Some of these officers said that the wild allegations levelled by PTI had been causing anxiety among them as mostly the claims made by the leaders were not based on facts.

One of the officers, who had served as RO in a National Assembly constituency where a PTI leader had won with a margin of over 40,000 votes, said that either these leaders were ignorant of the role of ROs or they had deliberately been giving misstatements for achieving their political goals. He said that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the PTI had received record votes which were unprecedented, but nobody had been raising voice against it.

Prior to the general elections, noted lawyer Ms Asma Jahangir had questioned the speeches made by then chief justice to the DROs and ROs and stated that the CJ should not have any concern with their functioning. None of the political leaders, including Mr Khan, had questioned those speeches.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 158 judicial officers, including district and sessions judges and civil judges, had performed duty as DROs and ROs. One of them said that they would be pleased if in future they were not asked for duty as ROs.

Another RO said that (former) chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had visited Peshawar on April 8 and addressed the DROs and ROs on the premises of the Peshawar High Court.

There were two sessions on that day. In the first session, which was open to media persons, Iftikhar Chaudhry, then PHC’s CJ Dost Mohammad Khan, Supreme Court registrar Faqir Hussain and some others had addressed the gathering. Later, there was an informal session in which media was not allowed. Some of the officers said that in those sessions then chief justice had heard the DROs and ROs, especially about the problems faced by them during election duties.

In that address, Justice Chaudhry had made special emphasis on encouraging female voters to cast their votes as it was a constitutional requirement. He had also told the judicial officers that free and fair elections were pre-requisite for bringing true democracy in the country. “In case of failure to conduct the election in free and fair manner, sustainable democratic structure can not be established, which may result in political chaos,” then chief justice had stated.

One of the judicial officers told Dawn that technically under the electoral laws the most important role was assigned to presiding officers of polling stations and not to the ROs. He questioned how a chief justice could come to the civil judge and ask him to rig elections.

It has been a practice in Pakistan that judicial officers have been involved in elections and they had served as DROs and ROs in last many elections. However, this is for the first time that a political party has been directly accusing the (then) chief justice and judicial officers of being involved in rigging.

The National Judicial Policy Making Committee had in 2009 decided that in future the judiciary would avoid its involvement in conduct of elections, as it distracts the judicial officers from professional duty and complaints of corrupt practices tarnish the image of judiciary.

“Even otherwise, the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002, Representation of the Peoples Act, 1976 and Local Government Ordinance 2001 do not contain any provision which requires that the elections are to be held under the supervision of the judiciary. However, in case of request from the government, the NJPMC would decide the extent to which and form of help to be extended to government in the conduct of elections,” the committee had observed.

Prior to 2013 elections then chief justice and SC’s registrar had stated that the said decision had to be relaxed on the request of then chief election commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim and political parties, including PTI.

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