ISLAMABAD: The chief justice of Pakistan sounded alarm bells on Wednesday.
“A bloody feud is forthcoming if any political party casts even an iota of doubt over the sanctity of the next elections,” warned Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry after taking an exception to the delay in the finalisation of a fresh voters’ list.
Heading a three-judge bench, Justice Chaudhry ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to wrap up the process of finalising the electoral rolls and gave a final deadline of February 23, 2012.
The apex court handed down these directions while hearing a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, who asked the court to remove fake votes from the electoral rolls. Earlier, the ECP had admitted in a statement that some 37 million votes were bogus and could not be verified.
The bench also issued notices to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and Secretary General Jehangir Badar in a petition filed by former premier Benzir Bhutto, asking the court to remove irregularities from the voters’ list.
Former prime minister Benazir had prayed for directions to the ECP for the inclusion of millions of voters in the electoral rolls, who were left out when it was revised on the basis of the computerised national identity cards (NICs).
Pleas going unheard
Appearing before the court, ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed said it would be impossible for the commission to complete the ‘laborious task’ of purging the list of 37 million votes. He asked the court to allow the commission to finalise the electoral rolls before May.
The official said that the spread of the deadly dengue virus in Punjab, floods in Sindh and the law and order situation in Balochistan had slowed down the process of finalising the electoral rolls. He said that the Sindh Assembly had also adopted a resolution for extending the time for completion of the voters’ list.
Echoing the ECP official’s views, Nadra Chairman Arshad Ali Hakeem stated that printing of 8.4 million electoral rolls needed more time. However, the bench cast aside the justifications and demanded that the process be completed before the third week of February.
The court directed all the executive authorities of the federal government to assist the ECP in finalising the list.
“Under article 220 of the Constitution, it is the duty of all the government authorities to help the election commission,” the bench stated.
The court also issued notices to 28 members of parliament as well as the provincial assemblies for contesting by-polls under an election commission, which did not have a composition as determined under the 18th amendment.
On the last day of proceedings, the court had asked the ECP for information regarding the legal status of these by-polls. The 18th amendment requires four judges – one each from every province – to be appointed as commission members for streamlining its functions.
Meanwhile, the court also directed the federal government to come up with a detailed response in 15 days on a separate petition by Imran Khan for granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.
The case will resume on January 10.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2011.
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