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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 287, 3 February 2022

PTI and the Election Commission: Why is Imran Khan unhappy?



Despite the browbeating and pressure tactics by PTI, the situation remains as it was

Ankit Singh

On 31 January, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) handed over a file containing PTI’s foreign funding along with the scrutiny committee’s report to the petitioner. In another development on 21 January, the ECP directed the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) to follow the procedure in purchasing EVMs; it also warned that it would not accept the EVM bought on behalf of MoST.

In 2021, during March, the ECP declared the result of NA-75 Daska (Sialkot) as null and void. The Commission had also found senior PTI leaders including Firdous Ashiq Awan and government officers/officials instrumental in the NA-75 rigging.

The Elections Act 2017 has been amended twice since PTI came to power; more than 50 amendments have incorporated into the existing act.

Clearly, the relationship between the PTI and ECP remains confrontational.

The ECP, its mandate and the recent amendments
The ECP is a constitutional body mandated to conduct election-related business. However, it lacks financial and administrative powers; there is an executive secretariat through which all the financial and new post requirements are approved. The ECP powers are not clearly defined when it comes to reforming the electoral process in Pakistan and it has remained limited to conducting the elections and declaring results only. Historically, ECP has remained quiet on its misuse as an institution by other more powerful idaare (institutions) in Pakistan.

The PTI government has cautioned that if the EVM provision is not accepted, it would stop the funding the Commission for its mandated job. The PTI government has also passed important amendments including the introduction of EVMs, i-voting for overseas Pakistanis through embassies, dilution in the power of ECP to prepare electoral rolls (by empowering NADRA to do the same), and delimitation of constituencies (based on the number of voters rather than the total population in a constituency).

The PTI’s ECP discomfort: Where does it come from?
The PTI came to power on the promise of dealing with corruption. Imran Khan has repeatedly asserted himself as Sadiq and Ameen (righteous and trustworthy). With the same zeal for reformation, the PTI legislators and leaders have voiced their frustrations concerning most of the public institutions including the ECP. Some legislators from PTI have even claimed that the ECP has always enabled the rigging of elections, and accused the latter as the headquarters for opposition parties. During the poor performance of PTI in the senate elections last year, PM Imran came out publicly and slammed ECP for not taking enough measures to avoid horse-trading and to conduct transparent polling. The ECP when consulted by SC on the need for open ballot voting in the senate elections chose the constitutional position by not showing any enthusiasm for the proposed ordinance on open ballot voting. The stance of ECP caused the first discomfort for PTI against ECP.

Electoral fraud has been an issue in Pakistan; the PTI has been proposing to establish transparent and accountable elections. The use and introduction of EVM have been the biggest angst for PTI; the ECP has chosen to remain independent on the issue. It has maintained that the procurement need not be done in a hasty manner and without proper testing. PTI is bent on its rationale of bringing major electoral reforms so that all political parties have faith and trust in the electoral process and the results. The reluctance of ECP in involving MoST for procuring and testing EVMs has brought some frustration to the high command of PTI.
 
Another reason is decreasing credibility of the ruling government led by PTI due to economic woes, decreased importance of Pakistan after US withdrawal and the recent low score on the corruption perception index. There is inevitably going to be a pushback from the masses but a washout is still a distant possibility for PTI.

The PTI believes EVM and other major electoral reforms would help the party gain a strong objective image and would enable PTI’s return to power in the forthcoming election. The ECP on the other hand has taken a cautioned approach to implemented reforms, for it fears that ECP constitutional powers will be diluted. Hence, the vacuum between the PTI and ECP is due to their different vantage points around the same issues.  

References
Sardar Sikander Shaheen, “Daska by-election: ECP recommends disciplinary action against 60 officials,” Business Recorder, 14 January 2022
Naveed Butt, “‘The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021’ passed by NA body,” Business Recorder, 3 December 2021
No EVMs, no election!,” Business Recorder, 3 December 2021
Mushtaq Ghumman, “EVMs, I-voting: Differences between govt, ECP remain,” Business Recorder, 7 December 2021
Muhammad Waqar Rana, “New electoral reforms — II,” Business Recorder, 22 December 2021
PTI vs ECP,” Dawn, 4 December 2021
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, “Controversial poll reforms,” Dawn, 17 June 2021
Fahd Hussain, “RED ZONE FILES: The five-front conflict,” Dawn, 2 December 2021
Tariq Butt, “Open ballot in Senate elections: Presidential ordinance described as unprecedented,” The News International, 7 February

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