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ISLAMABAD: Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani has advised Railways Minister Azam Swati to appear before ECP bench in order to diffuse tension with the electoral body while the minister is willing to contest his case in ECP through his counsel but adamant that he would not appear in person before the commission.

Sanjrani, who is presently in Quetta, has recently advised the minister to diffuse tension with the electoral body, Business Recorder has learnt. The chairman Senate is of the view that the federal government needs to mend fences with Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) if it wants to implement its electoral reforms agenda.

"Sanjrani supports the government's electoral reforms agenda and believes that hostility between the ECP and the federal government is a major irritant in this context," a source close to Sanjrani told Business Recorder.

Business Recorder tried to contact chairman Senate and railways minister but they did not respond when called and texted on their personal phones. The Senate chief, according to the source, "tried his level best" to ensure that the government's two key bills on election reforms; Elections (Amendment) Bill 2021 and Elections (Second Amendment) Bill 2021 sailed through Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs but these bills were rejected by the committee, last month.

The government now plans to get the bills passed from Parliament's joint session. ECP, Thursday, issued a 'show cause notice' to Railways Minister Azam Swati after neither him nor his counsel showed up at the ECP's scheduled hearing of the case related to Swati's strong criticism of the electoral body, last month.

A two-member ECP bench comprising of Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Muhammad Jatoi heard the case. In the cause list of the electoral body for Thursday, the case against Swati was titled: "Use of unparliamentary, derogatory intemperate language, baseless allegations and contemptuous remarks against the Election Commission of Pakistan and the chief election commissioner."

Contemptuous remarks: ECP issues show cause notice to Swati

However, in what came as an apparent snub to ECP, neither Swati nor his counsel Faisal Chaudhry Advocate appeared at the hearing. Instead, Chaudhry was represented by one of his associates who informed the court that the minister and his counsel were busy in the proceedings of a case in Supreme Court, and, therefore, they were not in position to attend ECP's hearing.

The counsel said that he was ready to represent Swati in the case and requested the ECP bench to be allowed to argue the case on behalf of the minister. But, the bench rejected his request and issued show cause notice to the minister-summoning him in personal capacity on October 26.

On September 10, the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs had a tumultuous session with the treasury members having categorically expressed their displeasure with the ECP for repeatedly opposing the federal government's efforts to launch Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

"This ECP is good for nothing-it always rigged polls-it took bribes for that purpose-such institutions should be set on fire," Swati said in a hard-hitting diatribe against the ECP. The minister added, "The ECP is making mockery of government's efforts to hold free and fair elections. It would not be allowed to undermine democracy."

The minister even suggested that the ECP should be 'disbanded' and the Constitution should be amended to allow the government hold the general polls. Seemingly embarrassed by the minister's unexpected verbal offensive, the ECP officials walked out of the committee proceedings. The committee rejected the government's bills mainly due to ECP's opposition to EVMs.

Later in the day, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry accused the Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja of acting as a "mouthpiece for the opposition."

On September 14, the ECP decided to "seek proof" from Swati regarding his allegations against the ECP. It also decided to issue notices to Swati and Chaudhry for their public outbursts against the ECP and the CEC respectively.

A source in the ECP told Business Recorder that the ECP decided to initiate proceedings against the two federal ministers in exercise of its powers under Section 10 of Elections Act 2017. This section grants the ECP the powers of a high court to punish for contempt.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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