Railways Minister Azam Swati’s outburst against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reflected more than the apparent cause, which was the ECP’s refusal to endorse the government’s desire for Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and i-voting for overseas Pakistanis. The standing committee saw the ECP officials walk out over the outburst, and the Treasury members walk out against the chair’s refusal to allow attendance by viedoconferencing. The committee then voted down EVMs, i-voting and open ballots for Senae elections. Considering that the Bill has passed the National Assembly, it does not mean the legislation is dead, merely that it will now go to the joint session of Parliament.VC
Mr Swati went as far as to impute an alternative motive to the ECP for not accepting EVMs and i-voting: it favoured the grant of the contract (which will run into the tens of billions of rupees) to some particular company which had bribed it. His outburst seemed to indicate the direction of a narrative against the ECP which can be expected from the PTI in days to come. It might be remembered that there was a similar campaign launched against the Supreme Court when it reversed the actions taken against Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa. There too, the reason for the clash had been the PTI’s extreme disturbance at the refusal of the Supreme Court to do its bidding.
The official insistence on EVMs in the presence of ECP objections causes eyebrows to be raised at its motives. if the purpose is to reduce controversy, why are the ECP objections to them, expressed in its 35-point submission to the committee, being ignored? The ECP has been in the government’s sights since the Daska by-election, when the ECP ordered a repolling because of official interference in elections. The government should realise that the essence of an electoral democracy is the freedom and fairness of its elections, and that the guarantee of tha freedom and fairness can only come from an independent election authority, like the ECP. The ECP has moved a long distance towards independence from being a government department, and includes the ability to differ from the government.