Senate Chairman election
WITH the Opposition having majority in the Senate, there is open power politics. The ECP has asked for resubmission of PTI petition for the disqualification of Senator-elect Yusuf Raza Gilani.
Now there is no legal bar to issue the notification for elected Senators and PTI’s petition will be dealt with in due course along with holding of the Senate Chairman election. The PDM Alliance is intact and the differences in PPP and the PML(N) are tactical.
The parties from Sindh and Balochistan are also on-board and will protect their local constitutional politics.
Based on the details of Opposition’s strategy, the Chairman Senate election is but one part. PPP has succeeded in keeping the Alliance together.
Both parties will increase democratic pressure on the government with the help of Long March and resignations. The reports from Punjab show that both parties will show flexibility.
The Centre preempted PDM’s move of bringing no confidence by announcing to replace Punjab CM and it was strengthened when Moonis said that Bilawal only came to inquire about Ch Shujaat’s health.
But the visit was not as simple as it appears. The last standoff in Punjab resulted in seven vote difference. Government has 187 and Opposition 176.
Bilawal’s visit has cast doubt in Islamabad and it is only matter of time that government will have to bring the change in Punjab or initiative can return to PDM because in his tweet Moonis said Bhutto didn’t ask for support in Senate.
But this does not mean that there was no understanding on Punjab and any future alliance which is more important than Senate.
According to PDM, their political struggle is within the constitutional and democratic norms.
Bilawal took pride before media by saying that our decision to contest by-elections and Senate proved right.
Ex-PM Abbasi while rejecting PDM difference said that our real strategy is to use 27-point agenda to make Pakistan a democracy. He welcomed independent position of the ECP as a surprise.
If Daska by-elections are held in an impartial manner, it will help hold free and fair elections.
The winning of Senate Chairman Election is a part of PDM’s overall strategy in the struggle for democracy.
The government on the other hand is calling for ending corruption and using of EVMs to hold free and fair elections.
The US Congress has passed SAFE Act (June 27, 2020) to safeguard American democracy against digital threats under which paper will replace paperless voting machines as part of election security.
The voting machines will be just scanners and the results will be verified with paper ballot.
Election security experts from Harvard, Stanford and Brennan Centre for Justice recommended phasing out of paperless voting in August 2020. The paper ballot based election system of Pakistan is still intact.
The voters can see, feel and stamp their vote. It gives them assurance that their vote exists under the logic of “seeing is believing”.
They get to see the paper ballot before they can accept that it really exists and then they can participate in the process of casting their vote and it is secret.
It was only paper ballots that saved credibility of 2020 US presidential election, public’s trust in next election and the democratic process as whole.
Imagine what would have been the situation in the last US presidential election if there were no paper ballots to recount and they were electronic.
The ECP is a constitutional institution. Under Article 10 of Election Act 2017, it has powers to punish for contempt of court.
The Commission may exercise the same power as the High Court to punish any person for contempt as per the Contempt of Court Ordinance.
The “court” and the “judge” means the “Commission” and the “Commissioner” (or as the case may be a member of the Commission).
The punishments include disqualification for 5-years. It explains eligibility of Gilani despite his disqualification.
There is urgent need for election reforms because of corruption, horse trading and allied crimes.
But at the same time there is enough space in our laws, institutions and infrastructure to hold credible elections.
Public is witness that it is the politicians and political parties that violated laws in Daska by-election.
Two innocent people lost their lives. The State has failed to register cases against the perpetrators so far.
It is duty of the ECP to order registration of murder cases to bring justice, end violence and to make democracy strong.
The ECP decision on PTI’s Gilani petition to furnish better particulars is timely. Parties should also be asked to provide list of 16 members for their role in his Senate election and action taken by the party.
It is important on two counts: a) the members can vote as per their conscience without fear under the law and b) settle previous case of 18 such members.
Had ECP acted in 2018, it wouldn’t have repeated in 2021. Party heads cannot act as judge and jury both.
It is test case for the ECP to make them accountable to rule of law just like any other citizen for stronger democracy.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.