The Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday categorically rejected the allegations made by incumbent ministers last week against the top electoral body and moreover, demanded evidence to back up the claims made therein.
On Friday last, Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati had lashed out at the ECP, accusing it of “always” rigging polls.
During a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, chaired by PPP Senator Taj Haider and called to discuss proposed amendments to the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2021, he had commented that institutions like the ECP should be “set on fire”. Swati had also alleged that the commission took bribes to rig polls.
The amendments, proposed by the government, primarily seek the use of electronic voting machines in elections and giving expatriates the right to vote — two issues that have been a point of contention between the government and the opposition for long.
Swati’s comments on the matter have drawn strong criticism from the opposition, including censure by Rafique on Saturday.
In a press release issued today after a meeting presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja and attended by senior ECP officials, the institution said it “objected to and rejected” the accusations against itself and the CEC.
The press release said evidence would be demanded from Swati for the comments he made about the ECP in the standing committee meeting.
Regarding the comments in the press conference, it said “the election commission has decided to issue notices to both ministers so further proceedings can be brought into effect regarding this matter.”
It added that the ECP has also sought the record from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority as well as all material regarding the standing committee incident and the press conference to be presented before it.
Reacting to today’s development, Chaudhry in a tweet said: “Respect for the ECP aside, if [you] don’t like [people] talking about individuals’ political role then [you] should maintain a non-political conduct.”
The minister said if he received a notice from the ECP, he would give a “detailed reply” to it. He added that individuals were not “immune to mistakes”, and that “criticism is done on individuals’ conduct, not on an institution.”
Separately, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Senator Shibli Faraz on Tuesday said that a peaceful and transparent election through an electronic voting machine was crucial for improving the electoral system.
Talking to a private news channel, he said the dream of a developed country could not be materialized without giving modern techniques in the electoral system, adding, the government was following a comprehensive programme of promoting information technology and modern knowledge.
Minister for Science said that it was the need of the hour to use technology for improving the country’s electoral system.
EVM would reduce the human interface and make the electoral system more efficient, free and credible, Shibli said.
He said that the government was repeatedly asking all stakeholders including the opposition and the Election Commission of Pakistan before the finalization of the electronic voting process.
He said that it was ECP’s job to train people about the use of EVM and removed all objections in this regard.
Criticizing opposition for raising objection on EVM, he said it was not possible to get the results without being tested first.
“They (opposition are just criticizing the government even without checking the working system of machine,” he said.
On September 11, a day after Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati passed scathing remarks against the Election Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Saad Rafique urged the relevant institutions and civil society to take notice of the minister’s “threats” and take action on the matter.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, the PML-N leader said while referring to Swati’s remarks: “They need to hold their tongue.”
He said it was perhaps for the first time in history that “the ECP has taken a stand on principles,” and in that case, it was the collective responsibility of the civil society, lawyers and political parties to take notice of the threats made against the ECP and take measures to defend and protect the country’s institutions.
“If the government is making such threats, it is the responsibility of Pakistan’s civil society and political parties to fulfil their responsibility and their voice [against such verbal attacks],” he reiterated.
He said that instead of responding to the ECP’s objections over electoral reform with logical answers, the ruling party resorted to threatening the body.
On the matter of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf expressing the resolve to pass the election reforms bill, the PML-N leader said the bill could not be passed as it lacked the majority in the National Assembly.
He added that no one, including Pakistan’s civil society and intelligence, would accept an election conducted via electronic voting machines.
“Their majority in the National Assembly is fake,” he said. “Who will accept legislation that is based on a fake majority?”
He further stated that electoral reforms had more to do with reaching common ground with the opposition than legislation. “And if we don’t agree [with the reforms], who would accept them?”
He then reiterated that relevant institutions, whose responsibility was to serve justice, should take notice of action over threats made against the ECP.