In press conference, ministers claim this is the only way to ‘restore’ public confidence in the working of the autonomous body
Leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Monday demanded that the chief election commissioner resign and the existing Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) be disbanded and replaced with new officials to restore the public’s confidence in the institution’s ability to organize free and fair elections.
“The ECP completely failed to ensure free and fair polls in the Senate elections,” Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, flanked by Information Minister Shibli Faraz and Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry alleged to journalists at a press conference in Islamabad. “Now, no political party is happy with the ECP; they are all criticizing it,” he said, claiming this validated Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stance that transparent elections could only be ensured if the practice of buying and selling of votes for the Upper House of Parliament was abolished.
“This is a complete failure of the ECP,” he reiterated, claiming it failed to fulfill its mandate and responsibilities. “The PTI is the biggest party in Parliament right now and we have no trust in the ECP,” he said, claiming this was also true of all other political parties. “There is only one solution to this crisis: the ECP as it stands now must be abolished to restore some trust in it,” he said, and called upon the ECP to resign en masse.
“If political parties and the general public do not have trust in the ECP, in its decisions, then the only recourse is for the incumbent ECP leadership to step down and allow for the installation of a new ECP,” he said. “We want the ECP to serve the role of a neutral umpire, which it is not doing right now,” he added.
Mahmood also reiterated his government’s dissatisfaction with the recently concluded Senate elections, claiming they had once more fallen prey to votes being bought and sold with impunity. “It is a longstanding demand of the prime minister that money not be used to influence elections,” he said, adding that this was why the government had sought the Supreme Court’s legal opinion on whether a secret ballot was necessary for the Senate polls.
“The [top court] ruled that it is the Election Commission’s responsibility to conduct elections in a manner that ensures the polls are conducted ‘honestly, justly and in accordance with law’,” he said, stressing that the ECP is responsible for ensuring corruption-free polls.
Reiterating that the ruling coalition had demanded the ECP utilize “technology” to prevent corrupt practices in the Senate elections, Mahmood claimed they had demanded barcodes be printed on ballots to prevent the buying and selling of votes. “Unfortunately, they rejected our proposal,” he said, claiming this had directly resulted in Abdul Hafeez Shaikh losing the general Islamabad seat to the opposition’s Yousaf Raza Gilani. “This proves corrupt practices were used during the Senate polls,” he alleged.
To a question on what the government’s response would be if the chief election commissioner and his staff refused to resign, Mahmood said that they were merely proposing a “political” solution and had no intention of filing any reference against the incumbent CEC.
The incumbent government and the ECP have been at odds since the conduct of the Daska by-elections, which the ECP ordered a complete re-poll in following allegations of massive rigging. The relationship worsened further after the ECP refused to implement barcodes in the Senate elections to allow for cross-checking of the ballot, claiming it did not have sufficient time to implement the measure. In response, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the ECP of “encouraging” the use of corrupt practices in the polls.
In a rare statement, the ECP emphasized that it has “never come under any pressure and, God willing, will not do so in future either.”