Botched selection of CEC

A bureaucrat in the job has not been a successful experiment

Sikander Sultan Raja, son-in-law of Saeed Mehdi, Ex-Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was appointed CEC (Chief Election Commissioner) in January 2020. He is a career bureaucrat who served under Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as Secretary Railways. According to Shahbaz Sharif, he was the nominee of the then Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Unfortunately, the influence of the Sharifs in the bureaucracy has been grossly underestimated by the PTI government, both at the federal and provincial levels. Several blue-eyed officers of the PML(N) administration managed to get important postings through the hidden ‘Baboo Networks’.  There is a long list of such botched appointments which have come to haunt IK.

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Bureaucrats control the files and the associated paperwork. They can easily manipulate the summaries and the search process. PSPM Azam Khan ran the PM Secretariat with complete authority as he had the trust of the PM.

Currently he is being investigated by the FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) for his deeds. Though he himself did not belong to the ‘Sharif Baboo Network’ he was unable to contain them. While the world knew about the credentials of Raja Sahib and his close links with the ‘Sharif’s’ they were not highlighted to the PM at the time of the selection. It is alleged that Sheikh Rashid was happy with the performance of the Secretary of his ministry and recommended him for this important position.

There was a time that Pakistan Railways were a pride of the nation. The network was run by a Railway Board composed of professionals and led by a chairman who was a Railways man, not a know-all bureaucrat.  Ever since the Board was dismantled and handed over to the Ministry it has been down the hill. I am curious to know about the exploits of Raja Sahib as Secretary Railways on the basis of which he was considered fit for the coveted slot of CEC. Non-professional management has destroyed the largest land carrier of the country. It has to be brought back under professional managers.

For credible elections to take place the CEC has to be pushed out as the appointing authority has realised its mistake. An honourable exit calls for an immediate resignation which is most unlikely, so there has to be a targeted strategy to correct the blunder to move forward in best national interests.

Conducting credible, free and fair elections has been a big challenge in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. After the enactment of the 1973 Constitution only judges of the superior judiciary could hold this position. The 1977 elections were held under Justice Sajjad Ahmed Jan, a very respected retired judge of the Supreme Court.

The movement that was launched after the electoral contest on allegations of rigging not only derailed the democratic order ,it also brought bad name to the CEC who decided to step down as he was a man of honour. As national elections require a lot of logistic support from the administrative machinery, in India individuals with field experience are appointed to hold elections.

Impressed by the transparent electoral process of our neighbours, I started to support this approach. Finally, after the 18th Amendment bureaucrats were allowed to hold this position. Sikander Sultan Raja is the first member of the bureaucracy who managed to land in this slot, but with disastrous consequences. I partly share the blame for this disastrous suggestion. Today Bhutto stands vindicated as he understood the bureaucracy well and wanted them to be kept away from the political contests. In the past only Judges were allowed to hold this position.

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The PTI, the largest political party of the republic, has time and again shown its disdain at the partisan conduct of the CEC. A reference was filed against him in the Supreme Judical Council (SJC) in August 2022 while another has been filed this month.

Honour demands that Raja Sahib, gracefully go home like Justices Sajjad Ahmed Jan and Fakharuddin G. Ibrahim who, after failing to deliver a credible election, decided to step down. By contrast bureaucrats cling to power and seldom resign.

I still think that the position of CEC calls for administrative experience which the judges do not have, but then the bureaucracy over the years has been tainted to a point of no return. Favouritism and loyalty has been a norm in their selection and promotion, the neutrality and professionalism that once existed is no more to be seen. Most bureaucrats still operate under the Victorian Government of India Acts, totally ignoring the Constitution of the republic. Finding a suitable candidate amongst their cadre requires a thorough evaluation, which was not done in this case. Bureaucrats stand by their fellow officers and cover and protect their misdeeds and mal-administration. Time and again I have been told by the senior officers that they were duty bound to defend the decisions taken by their peers even if they were incorrect or unethical.

It has been my experience that the Royal Colonial Bureaucracy of Pakistan cannot deliver relief to the public, with Punjab being the worst. Their evilness was neither understood nor addressed by the PTI government. Without a major shake-up the situation will not get better. Even today despite their holding office in the province, delivery to the public is dismal.

The Chief Minster Secreatriat operates under closed gates in GOR where entry is controlled. Mafias continue to call the shots. Botched appointments lead to botched results which the nation has to endure. It is time to take stock of all such selections and reverse them before it is too late.

For credible elections to take place the CEC has to be pushed out as the appointing authority has realised its mistake. An honourable exit calls for an immediate resignation which is most unlikely, so there has to be a targeted strategy to correct the blunder to move forward in best national interests.

Dr Farid A Malik
Dr Farid A Malik
The writer is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at: [email protected].


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