An aspiring politician needs deep pockets to partake in election season. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court took note of its class-exclusionary nature, issuing notices to 26 political parties seeking advice on how to reduce expenses.
Petitioner in the case and senior apex court lawyer Abid Hasan Minto said during the hearing that electioneering expenses need to be regulated, and that parties should be banned from holding extravagant rallies. The parties, he proposes, should be given equal airtime on state television and should also conduct door-to-door campaigning.
In compliance with an earlier court order, Minto presented the three-member bench with a list of political parties he had obtained from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). “The ECP has no objection over my petition,” Minto told the bench, headed by Justice Shakirullah Jan.
The court, accepting the list, asked the parties’ representatives to submit written replies before the court between seven and 20 days. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Nasir Bhutta, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Saifullah Gondal and Awami National Party’s Haji Adeel and Afrasiab Khattak were also present in court.
Preparing electoral rolls
The apex court also expressed concern over the ECP’s sluggish preparations for transparent voter lists. During the hearing, Attorney General of Pakistan Maulvi Anwarul Haq submitted a fresh report on behalf of the ECP and said that the commission will ensure the compliance of court orders at any cost. The court has asked the ECP to compile transparent electoral rolls by February 25 so that by-polls can be held in required constituencies.
Justice Tariq Pervez, however, was in no mood for reassurances, saying that whenever the court resumes hearing, the ECP begins convening meetings to discuss progress. “ECP officials are making a mockery of the court’s instructions,” he said disapprovingly.
The hearing was adjourned until February 29, when the court will take up all election-related petitions, including those filed by Minto, PML-N’s Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, and that pertaining to the ECP and voter lists.
Political parties’ reaction
On the other hand, politicians present in court had their share of complaints. PML-N’s Bhutta said that his party was yet to receive the court’s notice. Registering his own complaint over voter registration, Bhutta said that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had introduced a confusing system and asked the court to hear Jhagra’s petition, which was filed on behalf of the PML-N.
Haji Adeel of the ANP sought 15 to 20 days to file a reply, saying that the party’s central committee’s decision was necessary to submit a response.
Senators Adeel and Khattak also requested the court to issue the legal points which were raised by Minto’s petition in order to assist them in submitting a reply.
Arguing his case before the court, Minto said the practices and processes currently permitted and employed in holding elections are unconstitutional and unlawful and make it impossible for anyone except a certain class of people to participate in the political process.
Minto, who is also the president of the Workers Party Pakistan, said that the overwhelming majority of the country’s citizens can never aspire to achieve their legitimate social, economic and political objectives by participating in governance unless unconstitutional practices currently underlying the process of elections are restrained or remedied. “That is the sole object of this petition,” Minto said.
“It [the current electioneering process] has been permitted to heavily tilt in favour of retrogressive forces whose sole agenda is perpetuation of the status quo that guarantees their hegemony over the politics of this country by preventing the vast majority of Pakistani citizens from meaningfully participating in the electoral process,” Minto held in his petition.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2012.
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