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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), on Thursday, announced to frame charges against Railways Minister Azam Swati in the next hearing of the contempt case against him, scheduled on November 16, while directing the minister to submit a reply to the show cause notice by the given date.

A two-member ECP bench, comprising Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Muhammad Jatoi, made this announcement during hearing of the contempt case, wherein, the railways minister appeared in person before the bench.

He was flanked by a host of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and ruling coalition senators including Leader of the House in Senate Dr Shahzad Waseem, Swati's counsel Barrister Ali Zafar, and Waleed Iqbal, Saifullah Nyazee, Manzoor Kakar among others.

During the hearing, Durrani said that the ECP bench issued two show cause notices to Swati; first along with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and the other, for holding a joint presser against the ECP with Prime Minister's Advisor Babar Awan. Zafar, Swati's counsel, said that they did not receive the second show cause notice.

"I just learnt that there was a second show cause notice, as well. We didn't know about it. We need copies of that notice in order to submit a reply," the counsel said.

"Your junior lawyer was here in the last hearing of this case when show cause notice was issued," Durrani replied. He then announced that charges would be framed against Swati in the next hearing.

The minister's counsel responded that the ECP should first decide, as per the law, about the show cause notice. "You should submit a reply to the show cause notice. We would fix indictment on the same date," the member ECP told Zafar.

"It would not be appropriate- the show cause notice reply and indictment on the same day- would give a wrong impression-that you had already decided to frame charges," Zafar said addressing the two ECP members.

"So many impressions have already been formed," Jatoi said. "We never bothered about good or bad impression," Durrani added. Ali Zafar said he needed time to submit a reply to show cause notice.

"You were given sufficient time to submit a reply but you did not submit it," Nisar Durrani said. Swati's counsel requested the ECP bench to be given more time to file a reply to the show cause notice.

The bench accepted his request and adjourned the case till November 16. Later, speaking to journalists, Swati thanked the lawmakers and other leaders who accompanied him at the ECP. "I didn't expect that so many senators and government personalities would join me here," he said.

"The prime minister of this country appeared before the Supreme Court on a 30-minute notice. This is the victory of law and justice," he added. "It is our responsibility to strengthen the Parliament. It's the job of the government and the Parliament to introduce electoral reforms in the country," he said, adding that the government wanted to restore public's faith in the ECP.

The hearing of the contempt case against the information minister is also scheduled on November 16. On October 21, the ECP issued its first show cause notice to Swati and summoned him in person after neither the minister nor his designated counsel showed up at the ECP's scheduled hearing of the case related to the minister's strong criticism of the electoral body in September.

On October 26, Swati had appeared in the ECP in connection with the contempt case hearing. But, the next day, on October 27, the ECP issued a show cause notice to the information minister and second show cause notice to railways minister in the contempt case.

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 had said in a hard-hitting diatribe against the ECP. Later in the day, Chaudhry, the information minister, accused Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja of acting as a "mouthpiece for the opposition."

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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