WEB DESK: Somehow the higher judiciary and Election Commission of Pakistan entertain clashing perspectives on the question how to obtain a level playing field for the contesting candidates.
Quite periodically, the two have differed on the issues like delimitation of constituencies, character personas of candidates and verdicts of election tribunals, their contending worldviews under sharper limelight once again as the NA-122 re-poll draws near. The ECP has warned that it cannot guarantee free and fair election to this high-profile electoral contest after rejection of its code of conduct by the Lahore High Court.
Both the PTI chief Imran Khan and Railways Minister Saad Rafique of PML-N were served notices by the ECP for violating the code of conduct a day earlier for showing up and making speeches at public meetings of their respective party candidates. This was in violation of the ECP rules barring the President, Prime Minister, ministers and other public office-holders from attending election rallies. The Lahore High Court rejected these rules as null and void.
The commission’s right to issue rules to ensure free, fair and transparent polls enjoys the sanctity of the Supreme Court which had suspended a similar order of the Lahore High in August. To its immense chagrin this past Tuesday was a day of double whammies; on that day the Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court directed the ECP to undertake afresh delimitations of union councils and issue revised election schedule.
As if the higher judiciary’s restraining orders were not enough to put the Commission on the back foot, the Prime Minister is also unhappy over its embargo on the federal government’s Kissan package, whatever is left of it now, and the government has filed an appeal for its suspension.
Indeed, the Election Commission of Pakistan is fighting a defensive war on many a front, as against the expected co-operation it should have received from concerned institutions conducting a transparent electoral exercise which is no small challenge given our deeply corrupted political culture. It has to wade through marshes infested with greedy crocs, and it is poorly equipped for the hazardous journey.
Our political culture is absolutely corrupt – consider the big names being bandied around for their involvement in mega scams. It is hard to accept that millions are spent, elaborate rigging schemes are designed and violence is employed just to be in a position to serve others. With a few exceptions, an electoral victory is akin to reaching one’s hand deep into the fathomless till.
No doubt winning election is a matter of fierce contention, often exploding into violence and later culminating in a legal battle. That only armed forces can ensure rigging-free polling just because all others, including those whose primary duty is to ensure violence-free environment, are prone to serve the party in office and therefore cannot be trusted is a matter of shame. And no small puzzle: how come that those sitting on benches in the higher courts and all the members of the ECP are retired or serving judges of superior courts, but astonishingly we find them embracing conflicting opinions and interpretations.
For a layman, it is not possible to determine who is right and who is wrong. But we do know that the growing criticism of the Election Commission of Pakistan tends to undermine its potential and capacity to conduct fair elections in the country. Too much of criticism of the Commission, which is quite often misplaced as about the May 2013 general elections which made a gem of a judge like Fakhru Bhai leave in a huff, is uncalled for.
Given the querulous nature of our national politics many an accusing finger would always be pointed at the Commission. Those must be taken care of at appropriate forums. But we need to realise that the ultimate guarantee for a fair, free and impartial election in the country is an all-powerful, independent and self-assured Election Commission of Pakistan, and its jurisdiction should be treated as sacrosanct.