- The new chief election commissioner faces a myriad of challenges
After months of deadlock between the government and opposition over the appointment of a new chief election commissioner (CEC), finally there has been consensus on a name; Sikander Sultan Raja. Although it was the constitutional necessity of the appointment that forced the agreement, it is still welcome. That the new CEC is not a retired judge for a change, rather a former bureaucrat, should bring about some necessary changes in the running of the Commission. The first order of business for the new CEC will be repairing the reputation of the ECP that has taken a beating over the years. It is imperative that under this new leadership the institution not only becomes independent and powerful but is also seen to be so as well. The previous Election Commission failed as the 2018 general elections were riddled with problems that included but were not limited to the result delivery system failing and polling agents unable to comply with candidates in terms of timely sharing of information on Form-45. The same mistakes should not be repeated in 2023 and work towards ensuring that will have to begin now so that this new ECP is ready on Election Day to conduct a smooth and noncontroversial polling day. Quite a few upcoming by-elections will be a good litmus test for the new CEC.
There are pending cases that require the immediate attention of the ECP as well, the PTI’s foreign funding case being a prime example. Party chairman Imran Khan has attempted to delay the case since its filing in 2014. Yesterday he petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the ECP’s jurisdiction in the matter. The new ECP must resolve this matter on the basis of facts and merit while tolerating pressure from the ruling government and others to quash the case altogether. Proper scrutiny of election nomination papers in keeping with the Election Act 2017 to confirm the elibility of any candidate will be another challenge. In the past there have been some gross oversights that should be avoided. Campaign financing laws must also be properly implemented as has been ordered by the Supreme Court, so that all candidates are on the same level playing field. These are all serious challenges and if the ECP is able to overcome them effectively and definitively, it will have served its constitutionally mandated duty of delivering free and fair elections.