- Information minister says ECP’s job is to organise and conduct elections impartially and honestly rather than engage in politics
- Criticises opposition for lacking vision to strengthen parliament and country's political system
Barely a few hours after the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs rejected the proposal to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in the next general election, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Hussain accused the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja of acting as a 'mouthpiece of the opposition'.
Fawad, in a hastily-arranged press conference a few hours after the development on Friday, said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has become "controversial and its structure is highly politicised". Fawad was alongside Federal Minister Azam Swati and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan.
"The ECP’s job is to organise and conduct elections impartially rather than engage in politics," he said. "ECP will not make laws as the parliament has the exclusive right to do so."
The usage of EVMs and i-voting has become a matter of intense debate in the country as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government wants to introduce the technology for the next elections to be held in 2023. However, the opposition along with the ECP have opposed the move, with different arguments.
Fawad said if the CEC has objections over the technology or believes improvements need to be made, he should stop playing media politics. "If the CEC wants to do politics, I invite him to leave ECP and join politics and play a role in parliament."
Earlier on Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs rejected a proposal by the government regarding the use of EVMs in the next general election.
It dismissed the proposal by a majority during a meeting chaired by Senator Taj Haider.
ECP will not make laws as the parliament has the exclusive right to do so: Information minister Fawad Chaudhry
The standing committee has 14 members with four from PTI, three from the PPP, two from PML-N, two independents, and one each from the BAP, the MQM-P and the JUI-P.
During the meeting, Federal Minister Swati levelled serious allegations against officials of the ECP, saying its members take bribes and the commission should be excluded from the Constitution.
The minister maintained that the ECP has taken the parliament for granted. He stated a constitutional amendment should be carried out so that the government could have the power to hold the elections.
Responding to the Senate's rejection, Fawad reiterated that the ECP cannot raise objections on the right of the parliament to carry out legislation.
"Even Article 218 of the constitution says that election will take place as per law and ECP cannot make laws because that's the job of the parliament," he explained.
Talking about the ECP officials, he said their attitude in Senate today was equivalent to rejecting the parliament’s privilege.
He further added that ECP's objection to the use of technology to improve the electoral process is absurd.
Fawad asked the CEC to not act as the spokesperson of the opposition and rather "act as the head of an institution."
"The CEC may even be sympathetic for (former prime minister) Nawaz Sharif as he has been in touch with him. That's his prerogative, but he will have to accept the parliament's decision. You [CEC] cannot create your own system."
Taking a dig at the opposition, the information minister said the opposition has no vision as it is always trying to make a deal.
"Wherever there is a question of reforms and amendment, the opposition starts looking for a deal," he said. "Opposition fails to understand that if parliament becomes stronger, the country’s politics will become better."
The ECP has raised several objections on EVMs and i-voting mechanisms.
On Tuesday, the ECP had rejected the use of the EVMs for the next election and submitted its 37-point objection report to the Senate Standing Committee.
The EVMs cannot stop rigging and the secrecy of the ballot paper cannot be ensured, the ECP said in the report.
The commission also observed that in case of introduction of the technology in haste, the conduct of free, fair, credible and transparent elections as per the Constitution is not possible. It pointed out that Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy and Finland had abandoned the use of EVMs due to lack of security.
Earlier, in response to ECP's objections, Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz had said 27 of the 37 ECP observations had nothing to with EVMs or technology and are related to ECP’s capacity to handle EVMs. The remaining 10 observations are about EVMs, and the EVM machine prepared by MoST addresses all these observations, he said.
“The 27 observations – it’s for ECP to put its house in order and take steps to improve its capacity – government’s job is to do legislation – Parliament will make laws for EVMs so that 2023 general elections become the first completely free and fair general elections in the history of Pakistan with the use of technology.”