Pakistan Reader# 369, 6 August 2022
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
Since 2018, the PTI and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) have shared a rocky relationship, with Imran Khan accusing the commission over the years of targeting his party. In the recent past, the battle between the PTI and ECP has become more heated with differences over the by-polls in Sindh and Punjab, the PTI’s foreign funding case and the debate over EVMs among others. Apart from this, Imran Khan has publicly labelled Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja as a ‘traitor’ for the decisions he has taken in the recent past. Thus, the PTI’s ECP problem stems from both technical issues and the misconstrued perceptions of the PTI about the ECP.
First, the PTI’s prohibited funding case is a culmination of PTI’s ECP problem.
The prohibited funding case, formerly known as the foreign funding case, against the PTI is a seven-year-old saga that has played out in the ECP, the courts and the media. The case became a major point of contention for Imran Khan and the PTI which denies any wrongdoing and maintains the funding was not from prohibited sources. The case was filed in November 2014, after Akbar S. Babar alleged serious financial irregularities in the party’s funding from both Pakistan and abroad.
Nearly seven years later, the ECP on 2 August 2022 unanimous ruled that the PTI did receive prohibited funding and issued a notice to the party. The Commission in its verdict claimed that the PTI received funds from 34 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies. Additionally, the PTI took ownership of eight accounts, kept 13 hidden and failed to mention three. The commission also found form-1 submitted by Imran Khan to be “grossly inaccurate.” Further, the commission issued a notice to the PTI seeking an explanation on why the fund should not be confiscated.
The commission noted that the party “knowingly and willfully” received funding from Wootton Cricket Limited, operated by business tycoon Arif Naqvi. The party was a “willing recipient” of prohibited money of USD 2,121,500. It added that the party “knowingly and willfully” also received donations from Bristol Engineering Services (a UAE-based company), E-Planet Trustees (a Cayman Islands private registered company), SS Marketing Manchester (a UK-based private company), PTI USA LLC-6160 and PTI USA LLC-5975 which were “hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws". Additionally, the commission said that the party also received donations through PTI Canada Corporation and PTI UK Public Limited Company, adding, “from both the companies, the amounts received into its accounts of PTI Pakistan are hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws.” Further, the party received donations from Australia-based company Dunpec Limited, and Pakistani companies Anwar Brothers, Zain Cotton and Young Sports which was again in violation of the law.
With regard to bank accounts, the commission noted that the party also failed to mention three accounts which were also being operated by the party's senior leadership. Non-disclosure and concealment of 16 bank accounts by the PTI is a “serious lapse” on part of the PTI's leadership and in violation of Article 17(3) of the Constitution. Lastly, the commission noted that Imran Khan had submitted Form-I for five years (between 2008-2013) and was found to be “grossly inaccurate on the basis of the financial statements obtained by this commission from SBP and other material available on record.”
Following the verdict, the PTI claimed that it was in their favour, stating that the ruling has ‘vindicated’ the party. PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the PTI was the “only party in Pakistan that does funding.” adding that the party “does not hide its funding from the people.” He said, “Oversees Pakistanis have also funded” the party, stated the former minister and questioned why the PML-N considers them “enemy.” Further, admitting that the party should have declared 16 accounts, he said that “Imran Khan did not know about them.” He maintained that the verdict was “no big deal” adding, “The election commission is not going to make political decisions. The real decision is to be made by the people.”
However, despite the PTI putting on a brave face and dismissing the legalities and consequences of the verdict, it is a damning accusation of a party that claims to base its politics on the rule of law. Following the verdict, it is likely that the opposition would intensify their attacks on Imran Khan and question the moral superiority he claims. Further, the verdict would also contradict the PTI’s narrative of ‘imported government’ and the ‘foreign conspiracy.’
Second, Imran Khan’s differences with CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja
Imran Khan has been at odds with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja accusing him of partiality and attempting to use the Election Commission of Pakistan in the opposition's favour. He seems unwilling to let go of his distrust as he levels allegations toward the CEC to the extent of calling for his resignation.
Over the years, Imran Khan has questioned the impartiality of the CEC who met the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leaders prior verdict on the prohibited funding case. He alleged that the ECP had turned into a body that can make or break governments because it manipulates findings. Additionally, he also accused the CEC of conniving with the PDM parties to manipulate the Punjab by-elections and said that they were planning to “fix” the next general elections as well.
He said, “I have never seen such a dishonest election commissioner,” adding, “We will not contest general elections under the supervision of this election commissioner.” He called for the resignation of the CEC saying that the “biggest party of Pakistan [PTI] does not trust” the head of the commission.
The mistrust also played out in the two PTI-led provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which passed resolutions demanding the removal of the CEC just before the commission announced its ruling. Due to this mistrust, Imran Khan's criticism has come across as bullying with observers believing that has been constantly attacking and undermining the CEC to pressurise him over the funding case.
Third, the PTI and ECP’s differences over the use of EVMs and poll reforms.
In their efforts to ensure accountability, Imran Khan during his tenure attempted to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) to ensure transparent polls in Pakistan. However, he accused the ECP of scuttling these and the major political parties who allegedly endorsed rigging. He said, “When I was in government, I tried really hard for 2.5 years to introduce EVMs for free and fair polls in Pakistan… [which] would have allowed us to organise transparent elections,” adding, that the ‘thieves and dacoits’ in connivance with the CEC did not let the EVMs introduced in elections.
While the PTI pushed for the introduction of EVMs arguing that it could remove some 130 ways and means to rig elections, the ECP expressed its reservations about the EVMs and weighed in with 37 specific objections to the use of EVMs. The ECP in a document submitted to the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs raised objections to the use of EVMs stating that the concern that the machines are not tamper-proof and have software that can be easily altered. It added that there is not enough time for such large-scale procurement and deployment of EVMs and training for the massive number of operators required and there are security issues involving the chain of custody.
Apart from the other, there are three other contentious areas of poll reforms between the PTI and ECP, these include the reportedly insecure system of voting for overseas Pakistanis; the indirect dilution of ECP authority to prepare electoral rolls by transferring some of its constitutionally mandated functions to Nadra; the delimitation of constituencies based on the number of voters rather than the total population.
These contentions between the PTI and ECP highlight the technical differences the two share. This difference of opinion has fuelled the PTI narrative of the ECP hindering reforms and transparency.
Fourth, PTI’s differences with the ECP’s rulings in elections.
There are two instances where the PTI has heavily criticised the ECP ruling in various elections, the Daska elections and the Senate elections. In 2021, the controversy over the Senate elections in which Imran Khan said evidence of bribery was seen highlights the discord between the PTI and ECP.
While the PTI made substantial gains in the Senate, the joint opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani won the hotly contested general seat from Islamabad, beating PTI's Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. Following this, the PTI cried foul, demanding that ECP declare Gilani ineligible after the emergence of the video that it said showed “votes being bought.”
Similarly, the PTI loss in the NA-75 Daska by-election was another contention between the ECP and PTI. Following the controversial by-poll, the ECP released two inquiry reports about the mysterious disappearance of 20 presiding officers, stating that the senior officials of the police and the district administration were “already in knowledge of what was going on and they allowed to let the things happen as per planning.” This was a major blow to the PTI, with Imran Khan claiming that the returning officer opened all the votes against PTI and that the CEC cause the PTI to lose that election.
In conclusion, the PTI’s election commission problem stems from differences over polling technicalities and mistrust that has brewed over the years. The culmination of the PTI’s issues with the ECP was seen with the prohibited funding case. However, while the ECP’s verdict has opened a can of worms for the PTI, whether this would impact the party largely remains to be seen.
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