Institution decides to probe federal ministers’ allegations against incumbent CEC and seeks relevant records from Senate, President’s House, PEMRA
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday decided to issue legal notices to Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain and Railways Minister Azam Swati over their allegations of favoritism and corruption against Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja and the autonomous institution.
According to a statement issued by the ECP, the CEC had chaired a meeting of the ECP on Tuesday during which the allegations voiced by the federal ministers were discussed. The participants condemned the allegations “in the strongest possible terms” and rejected them. They also decided to demand Swati and Fawad prove their allegations against the ECP; the railways minister had accused the ECP of “rigging” all previous elections during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee for Parliamentary Affairs last week, while the information minister had accused the ECP of serving as a “mouthpiece” of the opposition during a press conference.
As part of its probe, the ECP has sought records of meetings between the government and ECP officials from the President’s House and the Senate Standing Committee. It has also sought a record of Fawad’s press conference from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
Immediately after the ECP announced its intent to serve notices on Fawad and Swati, the information minister said that he would issue a “detailed response” after he had received the summons. “With all due respect for the ECP, if you do not wish to discuss political ongoings, then your conduct should be free of politics,” he wrote in a post on Twitter, adding that while the ECP was a respectable institution, people associated with it were not above criticism and his comments were directed at an individual and not the institution as a whole.
The ECP meeting was a result of a contentious series of events on Friday, when ECP officials walked out of a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs after Swati accused them of rigging elections in exchange for bribes and said such institutions should be “set on fire.” In a subsequent press conference, Fawad described the ECP as a “headquarters” for the opposition and accused the CEC of acting as their “mouthpiece.”
The government has repeatedly voiced criticism of the ECP in recent months over its objections to implementing electronic voting machines in the next general elections without due diligence. The autonomous body has noted that EVMs lack transparency, and would make it more difficult to resolve electoral disputers, adding that implementing a new system nationwide before doing small-scale pilot projects goes against all international standards. The PTI, despite having nominated the incumbent CEC, claims the ECP is “biased” and has demanded Raja resign. However, they have yet to utilize the constitutional option of a judicial reference to oust the CEC, which would require them to prove their allegations in court.