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ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry Tuesday tendered an unconditional apology to Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the contempt case while electoral body took strong exception to the absence of Railways Minister Azam Swati in the hearing of the same case and warned to frame charges against him should he fail to appear in the next hearing on December 3.

“I don’t want to get into paperwork, proceedings and all that. I apologise for my remarks,” the information minister told a two-member ECP bench comprising of Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Muhammad Jatoi.

The minister requested the bench to accept his unconditional apology and dispose of the case.

“I am a lawyer myself and I hold the ECP in high esteem,” he said.

Jatoi responded, “Lawyers do not fight with the courts—they fight legal battle inside the court, not outside.”

The minister said many incorrect statements were attributed to him. “I am federal government’s spokesperson and I have to give statements—this is my job,” he said.

“For the first time, we are seeing that abusing someone is a job,” Jatoi, the Member ECP from Sindh, said.

“I did not abuse anyone. I never used that kind of language. I personally respect the ECP and chief election commissioner,” the information minister said.

Durrani, the Member ECP from Punjab, directed the minister to tender written apology, saying the commission would pass an “appropriate order” on the matter.

The case was adjourned till December 3.

The bench expressed its displeasure over the absence of the railways minister in the same case. Neither Swati nor his counsel Senator Ali Zafar appeared in Tuesday hearing. A junior counsel of Swati informed the court that the two senators — Swati and Zafar — were busy in Senate sitting and could not attend the ECP proceedings.

“We directed you in the last hearing to submit reply to the show cause notice. Neither the reply came nor did the accused appear today. Senate sitting is just an excuse. If the reply is not filed by the next hearing, we’ll frame charges (against Swati),” Durrani observed.

Later, speaking to media outside ECP, the information minister confirmed that he tendered an unconditional apology to ECP. “I respect state institutions,” he said.

Chaudhry said the government, with the support of the allies, would get the legislation on electoral reforms done, in Parliament’s joint session Wednesday (Nov 17).

“Electoral reforms are not government’s agenda. It is national agenda,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the ECP bench announced to frame charges against the railways minister in November 16 hearing while directing the minister to submit a reply to the show cause notice by the given date. 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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