Brief stint: Daring poll body chief calls it quits

Fakhruddin G Ebrahim cites ‘personal reasons’ for his resignation.

Azam Khan/irfan Ghauri July 31, 2013
“The ECP’s job is not just printing ballot papers or to act like a post office … Its job is to hold fair election and provide a level playing field to all contestants,” the source quoted Ebrahim as telling the members. PHOTO: SANA


Perhaps he was waiting for a hassle-free conduct of the presidential election.

Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, who is credited with overseeing the historic democratic transition in the country, stepped down a day after President Asif Zardari’s successor was elected.

Ebrahim cited ‘personal reasons’ for his resignation, but he was said to be aggrieved by the ‘docile’ and ‘non-cooperative’ attitude of his fellows at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) during his brief stint.

Intervention by a top body in the commission’s affairs and a ‘timid response’ from the members made the daring former judge quit, only a year after his appointment, sources privy to the development told The Express Tribune.

Some political parties have called into question the credibility of the ECP over alleged rigging and mismanagement in the May 11 vote. The charges hadn’t even subsided when the poll body found itself mired in yet another controversy: revised schedule of the presidential election.

Sources said that when the ECP rejected an application from the PML-N government for rescheduling the presidential vote, Ebrahim wanted to stand firm on the decision.

Subsequently, the PML-N approached the Supreme Court, which granted its request and ordered the election brought forward to July 30. The ECP bureaucracy surrendered to the court, much to the dismay of the CEC. Ebrahim believed that the ECP was an autonomous body and had not violated any constitutional provision in fixing the election date.

Incensed by the revised schedule, the main opposition group, Pakistan Peoples Party, decided to boycott the election, its allies followed suit. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf also endorsed the viewpoint of fellow opposition parties, though he decided to stay in the race.

On July 27 – the day of the scrutiny of nomination papers – Ebrahim circulated a note among all four members of the ECP, asking them to stand behind him and approach the Supreme Court to review its decision, sources said.

“Though the scrutiny process completed before noon [on July 27], the CEC extended the time twice, first till 3pm and then till 5pm while awaiting response from the ECP members on his note. None of them, however, supported him,” one of the sources in the ECP told The Express Tribune.

“The ECP’s job is not just printing ballot papers or to act like a post office … Its job is to hold fair election and provide a level playing field to all contestants,” the source quoted Ebrahim as telling the members.

Sources said Ebrahim had been aggrieved by the persistent ‘docility’ of the ECP bureaucracy on key matters even before the May 11 elections. The incumbent ECP secretary, Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan, had similar complaints. He had also resigned but was persuaded by the previous government to review his decision.

The landmark 18th constitutional amendment gave unprecedented powers to the ECP, but it clipped the sweeping powers of the CEC. Now, all the four members enjoy the same powers and the CEC acts as a member in key decisions.

Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, himself a former member of the CEC, said that he has spoken to Ebrahim who, according to him, believes the ECP’s jurisdiction has been undermined by ‘certain quarters’.

In his resignation, Ebrahim wrote, “I was appointed through a consultative process by the last parliament. My constitutional term ends in 2017. However, in my humble opinion, the newly elected members of parliament should have the opportunity to forge new consensus and choose a new chief election commissioner … this will also allow the next CEC sufficient time and opportunity to prepare and lead the election commission for the general elections 2018.”

“Despite personal threats and even a brazen gun attack on my family, I quietly stood firm against those forces who first tried to derail and then delay the 2013 elections,” he further wrote in the resignation.

Ebrahim paid rich tribute to those who were killed in terrorist attacks in the run-up to the May 11 elections including six-year-old Aimal Khan who was shot dead along with his father, a candidate for elections, when they came out from their neighborhood mosque in Karachi after Friday prayers.

President Asif Ali Zardari had approved the appointment of Ebrahim as CEC in July 2012 after a parliamentary panel selected him for the post. He was the 24th head of the commission after 12 permanent and 11 acting chief election commissioners.

PPP calls for more resignations

Commenting on Ebrahim’s resignation, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah, who belongs to the PPP, said that all four members of the ECP should also resign. Earlier he had demanded that the CEC and all four members of the commission step down for ‘failing to protect their independence’.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2013.