Federal ministers directed to provide evidence justifying their comments within seven days
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday issued notices to Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain and Railways Minister Azam Swati over allegations of bias and rigging, directing them to submit evidence proving their claims.
According to sources who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media, both ministers have been directed to explain comments accusing Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja and the ECP of favoring the opposition and of being complicit in electoral rigging. The two ministers have been directed to submit a reply within seven days.
Last week, Swati accused the ECP at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs of taking bribes and rigging polls, adding that such institutions should be “set on fire.” The ECP representatives participating in the meeting staged a walkout after his outburst. During a subsequent press conference, Fawad alleged that the ECP was acting as a “headquarters” of the opposition, and suggested the CEC was “close” to Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Nawaz Sharif. He sought to justify Swati’s commentary by claiming that if the CEC wanted to “do politics,” then he should expect an appropriate response.
The allegations have prompted an outpouring of support for the ECP by the opposition, which has slammed the government for targeting the autonomous institution and alleged that the PTI is trying to pave the way for massive electoral rigging in the next general elections.
ECP vs NADRA
Separately, a new controversy has resulted following the leaking of a letter sent by the ECP to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) over internet voting for overseas Pakistanis. The letter, which is widely available on social media, states that NADRA is seeking a new contract with the ECP worth Rs. 2.4 billion to develop an internet voting system. In its response, the ECP has questioned why NADRA has abandoned an earlier i-voting project, adding that Rs. 66.5 million had already been spent on it.
“NADRA may also inform that in the presence of an existing system with similar output, why should ECP go for a new contract amounting to Rs. 2.4 billion? If the existing system has some loopholes or deficiencies, then who is responsible for those deficiencies and whether these could/would be removed? Has NADRA fixed the responsibility on anyone,” it reads, adding that the responsibility for the execution of any new system is the sole responsibility of the ECP provided “the technology is implementable and practical in the given timeframe.”
The ECP letter also questions the tone and tenor of NADRA’s letter, highlighting a sentence—“ECP should consider progressing positively on NADRA’s proposed system at the earliest; otherwise, there might be unwanted and uncalled for delays”—as suggesting that the ECP is subordinate to NADRA. It urges NADRA to avoid such suggestions of dictation in future correspondence.
NADRA Chairman Tariq Malik, currently in Washington, told media that the ECP’s concerns were the result of a “misunderstanding,” adding that he would clarify the situation upon his return to Pakistan. He stressed that NADRA would only initiate work on an i-voting system once the ECP had permitted it to do so.