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EDITORIAL: Having lost considerable space to the JUI-F in the first phase of local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it was unacceptable to Prime Minister Imran Khan that his party should lose in the second phase as well. So he set about ensuring that the election on March 31 is won whatever be its cost. In clear violation of the electoral code of conduct he kept visiting the concerned constituencies and addressing rallies, and in the process earned the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP’s) notices of fine.

And that also being his cabinet ministers’ practice they too have been fined. Since such campaigning tours lend undue advantage to the PTI candidates the ECP’s rules treat them as unlawful and fine the wrong-doers.

The commission has also powers to disqualify any candidate from contesting LG polls under Section 234(4) of Election Act 2017 if he or she is found violating this restriction more than once. But there is defiance on the part of the prime minister and his minsters as it stems from the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance 2022 issued last month, under which the prime minister, ministers and party leaders having stakes in the election “may visit or address public meetings in any area or constituency during election campaign”.

Much like the offices of President and Prime Minister the Election Commission of Pakistan is also a state institution, exclusively charged with duty to prepare electoral rolls for election and organize and conduct free and fair elections. Although the Chief Election Commissioner is appointed by the President, the appointment is not subject to his “discretion” under the Eighteenth Amendment. The Constitution also mandates that the Commissioner “shall have such powers and functions as are conferred on him by the Constitution and law”.

Simply stated, a presidential ordinance does not take precedence over the constitutional mandate of the ECP. Since It’s just typical of Prime Minister Imran Khan to assume that he is the sole repository of state power the independence of the ECP is being treated by the government as a rival in national power play. Last year this rivalry acquired extremity over the mode of voting. The government insisted on use of electronic voting machines, as well as enfranchisement of overseas Pakistanis for the next general election.

The ECP had certain reservations over the use of such machines, but the government overruled the commission’s point of view by issuing an ordinance.

Constitutionally, Pakistan is a democracy, and rightly then it should be run in accordance with the doctrine of separation of powers. The state power is not the sole prerogative of any one institution even if it may be very popular in public or efficient in governance. Whatever be the temptations to barge into others’ homes the so-called popular institution would be committing constitutional and legal wrongs by dictating its dos and don’ts.

By desisting to show up at the LG elections the prime minister would have added to their fairness and acceptability of their results by the losers. On the face of it the only way out of this conundrum is a court order clearly spelling out the political atmospherics that should be obtained during the run-up to an election. No doubt the ECP is right in refusing to stand down.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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