Election’s credibility at stake

LEGALITY and illegality of the dramatic developments taking place on the electoral front, there is almost universal consensus among independent analysts that General Election 2018 is going to be the most controversial election in the history of the country. The objective of installation of a neutral caretaker set-up and strengthening of the Election Commission would stand defeated if remedial measures were not taken on a war footing to protect sanctity of the entire process.
There were already a host of questions being raised by different segments of the society over what happened during the last few weeks in relation to different phases of polls especially the process of scrutiny but the way former Prime Minister and a towering personality of PML(N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhary were pushed out of the electoral contest has definitely further tainted the credibility of the process. Still worse, the appellate tribunal, no doubt, had the authority to maintain or overturn decision of the concerned Returning Officers about acceptance or rejection of nomination papers of the two leaders but, according to legal experts, the tribunal overstepped its powers and mandate by declaring them ineligible to contest elections for life. If the Rawalpindi tribunal acted within its powers then the question arises as to why scores of others whose nomination papers were rejected by appellate tribunals elsewhere in the country escaped disqualification for life for concealment or under-declaration of assets as well as non-payment of tax, which amounted to tax evasion. It was, perhaps, the narrowest interpretation of the qualifications and disqualifications under Article-62 and 63 of the Constitution. Liberal interpretation went in favour of Sh Rashid Ahmad who was allowed to contest the election by the Supreme Court. In the case of Abbasi, there are reasons to believe that he must have provided/furnished the same information and made similar declaration both in the case of his native Constituency NA-57 and Islamabad Constituency NA-53. How is it possible that he is ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ in Islamabad and otherwise in Murree-Kahuta-Kotli Sattian constituency. Again, if, in the view of Islamabad tribunal (also a judge of the high court) Abbasi was eligible to contest elections then how the opinion of his fellow judge in Rawalpindi can overturn the decision of Islamabad tribunal as well.
This is strange and unacceptable contradiction that needs to be looked into and taken care of not only by the judiciary but also other relevant institutions especially the Election Commission of Pakistan. The ouster of Abbasi from the electoral scene has triggered apprehensions among PML(N) circles that he was being penalized for his loyalty to Mian Nawaz Sharif. Otherwise too, it is ironical that those with questionable background and known tainted personalities have been cleared to contest elections but Abbasi who, along with Ahsan Iqbal, is considered to be symbol of politics of decency has been hammered by the circumstances. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi can be anything but not dishonest or corrupt and this is borne out by the track record in politics and governance. Disqualification of a leader who served rigorously people of his constituency and contributed a lot in bringing about a qualitative change in their lives is surely an injustice to people of his constituency. Both former Prime Minister and PTI spokesperson have vowed to challenge their disqualification in High Court and they may or may not be allowed to return to the electoral politics. PML(N) complains this and similar other developments are aimed at affording undue advantage to its political rivals as those with fair chances of returning to assemblies are being removed from the process. However, in the case of Abbasi, nomination of papers of his wife has already been accepted who was covering candidate for Shahid Khaqan and the sympathy wave could secure her more votes than what Abbasi could have got in a fiercely contested election. It is because of developments like arrest of the candidate contesting against Ch Nisar Ali Khan despite earlier clearance by NAB and expeditious disposal of cases against PML(N) leaders especially in contempt of court cases that have forced even cool-minded people like Raja Zafarul Haq to cry foul. A delegation of PML(N) met ECP on Wednesday to register their protest and complaints especially in relation to Qamarul Islam but the episode of Abbasi the same day might have dashed their hopes of getting justice. We have been emphasizing in these columns that there should be a halt in activities and processes that are construed as one-sided and against the spirit of providing level playing field to all parties and candidates. It is for caretakers and ECP to save credibility of elections, otherwise the dream of political stability would remain an elusive goal.

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