A Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker has called the Election Commission of Pakistan’s ban on recruitments and announcements on development schemes before the elections a move “no less than pre-poll rigging”.
“People would vote against me (or any other MP) if already announced schemes do not materialise,” argued MNA Tariq Shabbir, from the PPP, while addressing the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms. “They would favour my opponents.”
Shabbir’s concerns were endorsed by Senator Kamil Ali Agha from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Senator Saeed Ghani from the PPP, Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl and by Anusha Rehman from the PML-Nawaz.
The ECP had imposed the ban in light of Article 218 of the Constitution, which empowers the commission to make arrangements to hold free and fair elections. The commission had said that announcement of new jobs and development schemes with the elections around the corner were tantamount to pre-poll rigging.
Law Minister Farooq H Naek told the committee, headed by Senator Jahangir Badar, that he had taken up the issue with the commission and contended that the ECP could only take such measures once the election schedule was announced.
However, ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan informed the committee that there would be no ban on recruitments that were announced before August 31. Similarly, ongoing development schemes would not be affected by the decision, he added.
Even this was rebutted. “How can the ECP determine August 31 as a cut-off date when the assemblies are intact and the election schedule has not been announced?” questioned the law minister.
Meanwhile, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) expressed serious concern over the increase in the security deposit for the national and provincial assembly members from Rs4,000 and Rs2,000 to Rs50,000 and Rs25,000, respectively.
“You are depriving an entire party from contesting the elections… we cannot afford that much money,” said Senator Col (retd) Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of the MQM.
When the MQM’s Iqbal Qadri suggested a minimum deposit so that good and honest people could participate, the law minister responded, saying, “Do you think rich people are not good and honest?”
Responding to the concerns, Election Director-General (DG) Sher Afgan said that the NA standing committee on law and justice had, in fact, recommended the increase in security deposits on May 28, 2012. “This is what the ECP was asked to do,” he added.
However, Anusha Rehman and Tariq Shabbir, members of that committee, said they were not aware of any such development.
Leader of the opposition in the Senate Ishaq Dar from the PML-N opposed the ECP’s proposal to spend one month scrutinising nomination papers.
“It was decided at D-chowk (during Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march) by the government but it is nothing but a waste of time,” he said.
Meanwhile, a sub-committee headed by Senator Mashhadi will compile a report on the code of conduct and the electoral amendment bill within the next two to three days. The report and subsequently a bill would be introduced in both houses of Parliament next Monday.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2013.