Daunting tasks await new ECP members

Several petitions seeking PM’s disqualification are pending with body


Irfan Ghauri July 28, 2016
Election Commission of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Four new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan – including its first-ever woman member – were sworn in on Wednesday, making the top poll supervisory body functional after a long hiatus of 46 days.

Justice (retd) Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, Justice (retd) Irshad Qaiser, Justice (retd) Shakeel Ahmed Baloch and former federal secretary Abdul Ghaffar Soomro were picked after over a month of bickering between the government and the opposition.

After their swearing-in ceremony, the ECP members were given briefing on the functioning of the electoral body. They will have a number of challenging issues to deal with as soon as they take charge with many important petitions of political nature already pending with the ECP, which had been inactive since June 12.

Among the hearings scheduled for today (Thursday), the ECP members will take up PTI’s disqualification petition against Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Imran Khan’s party as well as the PPP have also petitioned the ECP for the disqualification of the prime minister and his close relatives from the national and Punjab assemblies for keeping their foreign assets hidden from the election and tax authorities. Some smaller opposition groups like Dr Tahirul Qadri’s PAT have also filed similar petitions over the past 90 days.

Under election laws, all lawmakers after their election to a legislature have to submit details of their assets as well as those owned by their spouses and dependent children every year.

Before the ECP became dysfunctional, it had sought a reply from Safdar over PTI’s allegations that he had not disclosed the foreign assets owned by his wife Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of PM Nawaz.

The PML-N leader’s reply before the commission would be first formal response of any Sharif family member at any official body on the controversy, originally sparked by revelations in the Panama Papers.

The Panama leaks make the PTI’s case quite strong. But many legal experts are against using the ECP as a forum for remedies in such cases. The Constitution prescribes that such petitions should go to the speaker of the respective assembly first.

Another important case pending with the ECP is against PTI Chairman Imran Khan for alleged misappropriations of his party funds. Several hearings of this case have taken place during the past two years.

Similarly, another case has been filed by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq against his constituency opponent PTI’s Aleem Khan for allegedly submitting fake documents to claim rigging in a by-election won by Ayaz.

Questions raised

Pildat (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency) has voiced concerns over the delayed and apparently flawed appointment of the new ECP members.

The non-profit body has questioned why the federal government and the National Assembly failed to take timely action for starting the appointment process despite knowing the retirement of previous members was nearing.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2016.

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