Challenges for the new CEC

Pakistan expects to be assured by Justice (retd) Raza that the next election will be free and fair

Aima Khosa January 14, 2015
The writer is a senior sub-editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @aimamk

Every chief election commissioner (CEC) in Pakistan knows he has signed up for a trial on the date of the election he oversees. With Justice (retd) Sardar Raza Khan being the new face of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), let us take a moment to reminisce about the final months leading up to his predecessor’s trial on May 11, 2013.

Fakhrddin G Ebrahim conducted the last general election with national paranoia at its peak; the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility of at least two of numerous attacks on various political parties. Those of us, who were covering the elections, began wondering if this was the election from hell. Ebrahim’s frustration, too, was evident when a few days before the elections he said, “Give me peace and I’ll give you fair polls.”

In an interview he gave after resigning, he said if he could do anything differently, it would be to assign the Pakistan Army a greater role in the polls and the election would be held in phases. He also would have preferred quick decisions on appointment of sitting judges to election tribunals.

Notwithstanding how impractical these ideas could have been, it is fascinating that Ebrahim did not mention that there were certain things the ECP did not do at all. It did not comply with all of the Supreme Court’s orders on electoral reforms in its June 2008 judgment in the Workers Party Case. In its detailed ruling, the Supreme Court had ordered greater scrutiny of election expenditure of political parties and also ventured into what were seen as policy areas, like the first-past-the-post system, compulsory voting, run-off election, and having the none of the above (NOTA) option on ballot papers.

The ECP set up campaigning guidelines to comply with some parts of the ruling and ignored others. Before the election, the NOTA option on ballots made a few headlines before being dismissed as impractical under the circumstances. Imran Khan, too, only objected to the ‘contempt' of court orders after the elections, not before.

With the memory of the May 2013 elections now marred by allegations of rigging, one has no choice but look to the new CEC and the electoral reforms committee constituted by the prime minister to fix what needs to be fixed in our electoral system for the next election. Pakistan expects to be assured by Justice (retd) Raza that the next election will be free and fair. This means addressing all of the issues raised by the PTI — ballot stuffing, thumb print verification and more importantly, re-examining the role of returning officers and assessing the vote count procedure.

This also means stressing the need for a census — this was promised by the prime minister in his first month in office. A census population count is needed to reapportion constituencies in the country. Changing demographics change constituencies, which in turn change our national and provincial politics. The PPP draws its power from rural constituencies so it won’t want to admit the problem in rural Sindh. There will also be resistance to new urban constituencies in Karachi. But if the government is serious about electoral reforms, this needs to be done.

Currently, the government’s committee on electoral reforms is having deliberations with the ECP on electronic voting machines (EVM). So far, information on it has been discouraging. The ECP’s Director General Information Technology Khizar Aziz has candidly told the parliamentary body that the software used by EVMs could be manipulated to affect results. All the more reason to keep an eye out for the reforms the committee will eventually recommend to parliament. Should we be investing billions in an electronic election if there are going to be questions about this exercise’s credibility too?

I have mentioned only a few recommendations here. Ishaq Dar has received more than 1,200 suggestions of different nature from various stakeholders, some related to changes in laws and others related to amending the Constitution.  Let us see how many make it to the new CEC and which of these he chooses to implement.

Imran Khan took many to task on his container from where he conducted Ebrahim’s trial. Raza would be wise to not repeat his predecessor’s mistakes if he hopes to avoid a similar fate.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2015.

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ishrat salim | 9 years ago | Reply

Unless the CEC is made an independent & autonomous body like in India, we cannot expect our CEC to remain free from criticism. I wonder, on what assurance the present CEC accepted this " un-thankful " responsibility ? I think the financial package was too attractive to be ignored. Was he not aware of the tons of mud thrown on EC in the past. Has anything changed ? So, on what basis, the new CEC has accepted this new challenge ? He should have been very vocal in accepting the new challenge with conditions, otherwise, he too shall become controversial very soon.

MAD | 9 years ago | Reply

BTW on a lighter but serious note i have heard the new CEC is or has ben politically affiliated with PMLN. However seems to have a brother in PTI who may well be a PTI candidate next time around

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