The two-year disqualification handed out to the PPP’s Waheeda Shah by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is an entirely appropriate punishment for an unwarranted crime: slapping an ECP staff member at the polling station. Ms Shah’s actions threatened the integrity of the electoral process and by not allowing her to contest polls for two years, the ECP has ensured that she has to vacate her Sindh Assembly seat immediately. Consequently, she will not be allowed to run for office in the next general elections. The next step should be for the Director of the Sindh Police — who is seen standing silently behind Ms Shah in the video as she slaps the ECP official — to be removed from office.
Those who are trying to downplay the incident, saying that it pales in comparison to other crimes committed in the country on a daily basis, need to realise how essential free and fair elections are to the country’s future and that a strong message — that no one is above the law — needs to be sent to those who hold or vie for public office. Ms Shah’s punishment will hopefully serve as an example to all those who may consider throwing their weight around to ensure that the orders of local polling officials need to be heeded. So egregious was her offence that her party, the PPP, should consider taking further action and expelling her from the party. In fact, the party should have taken punitive action immediately to distance itself from this event and to reassure voters that it believes in free and fair elections while respecting the ECP’s independence.
But the news is not all good. Two of the five members of the ECP who were hearing her case voted to absolve Ms Shah, despite the fact that her actions were caught on video. One of the two was the chief election commissioner and it really boggles the mind that Ms Shah would be let off, given the video footage showing her quite clearly slapping a female staffer. The other member also seems to have cast his vote in a manner that observers would, perhaps, wonder about his political loyalties. While such things are normal for members of government bodies, this particular case seemed quite clear-cut.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2012.