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EDITORIAL: Now that PBC (Pakistan Bar Council), SCBA (Supreme Court Bar Association) and SHCBA (Sindh High Court Bar Association) – all apex bodies of the higher judiciary – have put the spotlight on the CEC (Chief Election Commissioner), to the point of demanding his resignation to ensure “free and fair polls”, ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) must engage with all of them and address their concerns before the credibility of the polls is further compromised.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the delimitation issue, to ensure the general election takes place on 8 February 2024 more than anything else, makes it even more important to keep all the noise from getting any louder.

The bars must have known that their concern and accusations would lead to all sorts of interpretations and speculation, so nobody should be surprised at the counter-allegation that they, more than the ECP, might be part of some plan to delay the election.

That is why they, too, must stand ready to talk with CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja instead of sticking to their demand and going ahead with their planned lawyers’ movement. Since one of them overstepped the mark and accused the CEC of creating an extra seat in his home district, which turned out to be a false claim, it does seem that a little more thought and work could have gone into their effort.

Yet, there can be no denying that concerns about a “level playing field” are being voiced by a number of principle political actors, as well as parties.

And given Pakistan’s undeniable history of the political field not quite being level ahead of elections, the last one being no exception, this issue definitely needs to be settled. Already the first thing losing parties do after every election is question the fairness and transparency of the vote. So why give anybody more, completely unnecessary reasons to doubt its legitimacy?

But simply changing the CEC is no way to ensure it. Besides, the matter of whether or not a caretaker setup can appoint one will also have to be put before a jury first.

And all that will surely mean another postponement, which nobody wants. That explains why even PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), which had been calling for the CEC’s ouster for years, also joined other main parties and distanced itself from the lawyer bodies’ demand.

It can safely be said that the upcoming election is unique in many ways. The party with the largest footprint is clearly being hounded – the legality of which is being debated, and shall be decided upon, by the courts. There has been an intense round of manoeuvring in which old parties were broken, new ones created, and now nobody is quite sure of what result to expect from which party.

And there is a sense that some players are being nudged along, just as it is widely accepted that one party was elevated before the 2018 election.

All this has created a level of political uncertainty that matches the magnitude of the country’s economic crisis, which threatens nothing less than sovereign default and the hyperinflation, uncontrollable unemployment and social unrest it brings.

Unless the next election takes place at the right time, and produces an undisputed government, Pakistan will fail on both fronts and face the kind of breakdown that even the loss of half the country half a century ago did not trigger.

That alone should convince all institutions and arms of the state to join heads and find solutions to all the problems that have been identified.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Dec 22, 2023 08:24pm
Seems something else is at play, where were these bars when ECP was given powers as a separate entity subservient to no one, not even SC?
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