Failure to check rigging could make ECP redundant: PTI

Source: Published in Current Affairs on Wednesday, July 01, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Alleging that there was a lack of accountability, monitoring and proper delegation of authority within the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), senior counsel Abdul Hafeez Pirzada said that not only was the ECP responsible for the recurring electoral crisis that happened off and on in the country, but warned that the ECP might become redundant if this trend continued unchecked.

Arguing before the three-judge inquiry commission – investigating allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections – Mr Pirzada said the ECP had failed to effectively monitor and obtain feedback on what transpired on polling day.

“This is total abdication of the duties cast upon the ECP, which left the job of holding the elections to the sweet will of its subordinates,” the counsel emphasised. He blamed the ECP secretary and the provincial election commissioners for failing to implement election laws.

The ECP left everything, including the job to assess the requirement of ballot papers for each constituency, on returning officers (ROs), which eventually led to the printing of the ballot papers far in excess of the number of registered voters in those constituencies.

Pirzada says commission created controversy around Form XV itself

Referring to the testimonies recorded by the ROs who appeared before the inquiry commission, Mr Pirzada regretted that the ECP left Forms XV in possession of the ROs, who also filled them out when that was the job of presiding officers.

This was not permissible under the election laws or rules, he said, adding that the violation of these laws amounted to a criminal offence, liable to be punished by two years in jail.

How many ROs were show-caused or punished by the ECP, asked the counsel. But Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, who heads the commission, reminded him that action against the presiding or returning officers would require evidence.

The counsel said the ECP, through its April 18, 2013, letter to the provincial election commissioners and printing presses, had informed them about the instructions under an action plan to maintain the sanctity of the ballot, which suggested that the number of ballot papers in each constituency should be determined by rounding off the requirement for each polling station and not the polling booths. But the ROs rounded up on the basis of individual booths.

Can the consolidation of election results take place in violation of these guidelines, the counsel asked.

Referring to the testimony of former caretaker Punjab chief minister Najam Sethi, who had conceded that administrative powers had been taken away from him and that, soon after the elections, secretaries had begun reporting to Raiwind, Mr Pirzada argued that the caretaker set-up in the province was a sham, adding the very purpose of appointing a caretaker CM was frustrated since nobody listened to him.

“It was the administration in the Punjab that was running the show,” the counsel regretted, adding that a large number of ballot papers were printed especially for Lahore’s high-profile constituencies and the ballot papers assigned to polling stations were not accounted for.

This cannot be meaningless, he said, adding that had all the materials such as Form XV been produced in a timely manner by the ECP, the controversy would not have arisen at all. This controversy is of their own creation, he said.

The counsel also highlighted the need of doing something with the election tribunals, which took more time in deciding disputes, making people lose faith in them.

At this, the chief justice reminded the counsel that tribunals now had full-time judges. Pirzada said that there should be more tribunals and some reforms also. The commission’s terms of reference do not include the reforms, quipped Justice Amir Hani Muslim, but Pirzada explained that he meant that the reforms should be suggested by the law and justice commission of Pakistan.