With 2018 polls in mind: ‘Arbitrary’ shakeup in ECP raises eyebrows

Dozens of top officials transferred without input from four members

Irfan Ghauri March 09, 2016


The country’s top poll supervisory body has arbitrarily made several ‘irrational’ transfers and postings — the most surprising among them is the appointment of its librarian as local election commissioner in a central Punjab district, The Express Tribune has learnt from officials.

The Election Commission of Pakistan’s new management first made the ECP central secretariat off-limit to journalists on January 8 before undertaking a massive shakeup. In the first phase, 54 Grade-18 officers were transferred on January 18, followed by transfer of nine Grade-19 officers on January 30.

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In the second phase, the ECP arbitrarily transferred 27 Grade-18 officers this week. Notifications of all these transfers and postings were kept secret from the media, lending credence to suspicions of foul-play.

Surprisingly, a librarian working at the ECP central secretariat has been appointed as district election commissioner (DEC) of Jhelum. The official has no fieldwork experience required for the job. The former DEC has been posted to Kambar-Shahdadkot district of Sindh, according to an ECP notification issued on March 7 – a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.

Similarly, the incumbent DEC of Lahore has been transferred to Buner district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while Mandi Bahauddin’s DEC has been posted to Nasirabad district of Balochistan.

A little research shows that the DECs of those districts have been transferred where the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz performed below expectations in recent by-elections or local government polls. Some observers believe the move will favour the ruling party in the districts where it can face a challenge in the 2018 general elections.

The DEC is the most important officer in a district. He/she is the registration officer for electoral rolls and constituencies are also delimited an election on his/her recommendations. Moreover, since the DEC is considered an expert in election matters, he/she guides the returning officer in a district during an election.

Since postings in the ECP are usually made for a period of three years, the officials posted recently would supervise the 2018 elections in their respective districts.

“No criterion was laid down for these transfers. We have been told that only the officials who have served at one station for more than three years are being transferred without taking into account their utility at the new station,” an ECP official told The Express Tribune on the condition he would not be named in this report.

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None of the freshly transferred/posted ECP officials was willing to speak on record, fearing a backlash from what they called the ‘autocratic bureaucracy’ of the commission.

While the DEC Lahore has been transferred to Buner, two other officials working in the Provincial Election Commission (PEC) in Lahore have been posted as DECs in Naushero Feroze and Sujawal districts of Sindh, in a move that is beyond any rational. An official working in the PEC in Peshawar has been posted as DEC in Gujrat district of Punjab. Another official from the PEC Peshawar has been sent to the PEC Lahore.

Apparently, all fresh transfers and postings have been made without any input from four members of the ECP as the notifications carry a sentence “with the approval of the CEC [chief election commissioner]”.

After appointment of CEC Justice (retd) Sardar Raza Khan in December 2014, the government appointed a new secretary of the commission in April 2015. Subsequently, two key posts were filled in the ECP: A Grade-21 officer in the Audit and Accounts Department was transferred to the ECP as additional secretary and a retired brigadier was appointed as director general administration.

The original bureaucracy of the ECP views the new move as an attempt by the top management to take full control of all ECP matters and have its own people in place well before the 2018 elections. Already under fire from opposition parties, the ECP is likely to face more criticism once internal bickering in the commission become public.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2016.


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