ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) secretary general and former senator Farhatullah Babar has said that the law minister’s assertion that the parliament gave magisterial powers to the army is at best self-serving half-truth and at worst a downright manipulation to pave way for polls day rigging and is rejected.
In a statement issued here on Tuesday, Farhatullah Babar said that section 193 (a) of the law passed by the parliament granted magisterial powers also to an officer of the armed forces but only “in respect of offences of personation, or capturing of the polling station or polling booth punishable under section 174.”
However, the ECP notification issued first on July 10 empowered troops to take action even in respect of offences not mentioned in the law, he said.
Secondly, the law restricted exercise of such powers to the election’s day, but the notification issued extends it “for the entire period of deployment”, he said.
Third and far more ominously, he said, the troops have been deployed under article 245 of the constitution which means that their actions cannot be challenged even if they were to set up military courts.
All this renders army personnel completely independent of the presiding officer and the election commission and do what they like, he said.
He said that the ECP sought to correct the offences of which cognizance may be made. This, however, makes no difference as the troops will exercise powers under article 245 for the entire period of deployment and not only inside but also outside of polling station, he said.
Ominously, the army is authorised to take immediate action ‘in case the presiding officer does not act to prevent the commission of any irregularity’.
This provision amounts to giving powers to the army to take action by presuming the intentions of the presiding officer, he said. It literally means that troops have carte blanche to do whatever they like both inside and outside the polling stations without any questions asked.
He said that contradictory statements by responsible state functionaries only strengthened doubts and misgivings.
First, it was stated that magisterial powers had been given only to returning officers but later gave these powers to the army also. It was said that army would be deployed only outside but it was quickly changed and troops allowed inside the polling station.
Too much has already been in pre-poll rigging. By giving vast powers to the troops under Article 245, far beyond merely magisterial, questions will continue to be asked whether the road is being paved for manipulations on polls day.
These questions will not die down, the assertions of the law minister notwithstanding, he said.
We know that nothing will come out of these protestations but it is important nonetheless to place them on record, Farhatullah Babar said.