Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a valiant attempt to steal a march on his increasingly bellicose rivals Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri on Tuesday, offering to set up a three-member judicial commission to investigate election rigging claims.
Addressing the nation on the penultimate day before Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) march on the capital, PM Nawaz raised the possibility of reaching a compromise with the PTI.
“We request chief justice of the Supreme Court to form a three-member judicial commission to probe allegations of rigging and present their findings after a through probe,” said the prime minister at the end of his 25-minute speech.
“Nothing more can be done with sincerity in this regard,” he added, requesting the nation to decide whether there was any justification left to march on Islamabad against the government on August 14.
Recalling the May 2013 election, the premier said several measures had been taken by the authorities in the interest of transparency and fairness.
Voters lists bore photographs of voters and computerised national identity card was made compulsory for casting of ballots. “It was on the demand of those who are alleging rigging that the judiciary appointed judges as returning officers,” he added.
“No international or local body [that observed the elections] said that these elections were rigged or that the losers were the real winners,” he added.
The prime minister also questioned the transparency of the 2002 and 2008 general elections, pointing out that his family was not allowed to return to the country to contest the elections. “Both Shahbaz and myself were declared ineligible but we played our role. I was not allowed to become a member of the National Assembly but I did not cry foul,” he added.
However, the prime minister acknowledged the need for electoral reform. He said that a 33-member parliamentary commission had been formed to finalise recommendations for electoral changes. “The 2018 elections will take place under the recommendations of this committee,” he said.
But despite his conciliatory tone, ostensibly directed at the PTI, the prime minister spoke firmly about Dr Tahirul Qadri’s PAT. Lamenting that Pakistan had remained a victim of political instability for which the country had paid a heavy price, he said his government “will not allow anyone to spread anarchy in the country.”
Taking a swipe at the role of media, the prime minister said “the media needs to reassess its role. They need to check if certain elements are trying to misuse the media for their goals.”
Earlier, the prime minister exchanged fecilitations with the nation on its upcoming Independence Day and stressed the need for resolve in promoting political stability for development and progress. He said that history bore testimony to the fact that the developed nations achieved their goals because of political stability and continuation of policies.
Nawaz added that the mandate given by the people in the 2013 general elections was accepted at every level. He said that his party had set new democratic traditions by accepting the mandate of other parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Talking about his government’s performance during the last 14 months, the prime minister said; “I am not claiming any miracles when it comes to the progress of the country, but there has been improvement on several fronts when it comes to the economy.” He added that new mega projects had been initiated by his government, the economy had improved, confidence of foreign investors had been restored and exports had picked up.
Highlighting his government’s initiatives, the prime minister said that while he had started towards the journey of economic progress, prosperity, socio-economic development and peace, a few elements had unfortunately raised negative slogans of protest without any reasons. “We need to identify which hollow slogans have kept us stuck in poverty,” he added.
“Are these protests occurring because there are no corruption scandals since this government took over?” the prime minister rhetorically asked the nation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th,2014.