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EDITORIAL: The PTI remains unapologetic for picking a quarrel with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) without good reason. It all started when during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs the electoral body submitted a document raising several objections to the government's electoral reform proposal, ten of them related to its pet project: introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections. To which the Railways Minister Azam Swati responded by accusing the ECP - and by insinuation its head - of receiving "bribes always" and rigging polls. If that was not scandalous enough, he said such institutions should be set ablaze. Later that day, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry caused more affront to the ECP, accusing it of becoming "opposition's headquarters", the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of being a "mouthpiece of the opposition" and playing politics by raising "stupid" objections to EVMs.

The allegations being as serious as they are the ECP issued notices to the two ministers seeking explanation for their diatribes, and to provide substantiating evidence within seven days. No one has the right to drag through the mud the name of another person, above all of a constitutional body responsible for conducting elections in a fair and transparent manner. Unfortunately, it looks like a deliberate attempt to make the ECP controversial. Swati obviously has no proof to back his egregious fulminations, and is said to be claiming that his was a witty banter - a poor excuse, indeed. And refusing to back down Chaudhry has posed the question whether an "incomplete" ECP could issue such notices. It is an absurd question, first of all because that means it can no longer perform the full range of its functions, including holding elections. Who and how then is to carry out those responsibilities? Second of all, it is incomplete not due to its own negligence but that of the government. Much of the time to nominate members to the two vacant positions within the requisite time limit was wasted because the Prime Minister would not bring himself to fulfil a legal obligation of holding direct consultations with the Leader of the Opposition.

Further exacerbating tensions between the two sides is a show-cause notice issued by the ECP to Maritime Affairs Minister Syed Ali Zaidi over alleged violation of the code of conduct during the recent cantonment board polls in Karachi. The minister has replied angrily to the notice, saying it is contrary to facts and meant for "the exclusive purpose of maligning me and my party." He has demanded an unconditional apology from the ECP failing which he would take legal action. Needless to say, none of this bodes well for our ever nascent democracy. The ministers must watch their words, and the latter should avoid issuing notices based on unconfirmed reports. Meanwhile, there has been a heated exchange of letters between the ECP and the National Database Registration Authority over the internet voting issue, contents of which are suspected to have been 'leaked' by the former. That is not nice. The electoral body must act as an impartial entity interested only in performing its duties to the best of its abilities.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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