Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 29, 2015

Questions to parties The Judicial Commission (JC) hearing political parties’ complaints and petitions regarding alleged rigging in the 2013 elections has appeared dissatisfied with the material it has received so far from the latter. Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Nasirul Mulk, the JC says it has received 101 applications, but all the matter placed before it so far is of a generalised or generic nature and does not conform to the terms of reference (TORs) under which the JC was set up. Therefore it has given the parties a questionnaire to fill, with a set of specific questions framed according to the TORs. Basically, the questionnaire sets out three main questions, with a sub-question attached to each one of them. Given the deadline of 45 days in which the JC is supposed to come to a conclusion and present its report, the parties have been asked to fill in the questionnaire and submit supporting documents by April 29 (today). The first question is, were the 2013 elections carried out in an honest, impartial manner in accordance with law? If the answer is no, the parties are asked to submit supporting material to prove their assertion and present eyewitnesses for the same purpose. The second question asks whether the elections were manipulated in a “systematic” manner and to indicate the identity of those who designed, planned and implemented this enterprise. The third question focuses on whether the alleged rigging took place only in the National Assembly seats or both the National and provincial Assembly seats. If the former, did this alleged rigging take place in all provinces or only some? These questions are so specific and focused that the parties, in the opinion of some of the best legal brains in the country, will be hard put to it to reply convincingly to them to the satisfaction of the JC. Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, for example, representing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), wants more time to put together the party’s submissions along with proper documentation. Now this is exceedingly strange since the PTI has been going on and on about rigging since the elections, including during the months-long sit-ins in Islamabad. While PTI’s Ishaq Khakwani tried to gloss over this matter by saying the information the PTI has gathered needs to be translated into legally sound documents for presentation before the JC, his leader, Imran Khan, insists the proof of rigging is in the ballot bags. He wants these reopened in at least seven constituencies to prove his contention. Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid has questioned this assertion by posing a ticklish question: if the proofs are all in the bags, what has Imran Khan been collecting all this while? Certainly the confused, incoherent and unpersuasive series of (sometimes contradictory) statements on the issue emanating from PTI has, if anything, eroded the credibility of the PTI case and may yet turn the party’s pleading before the JC into a nightmare from which the party may never recover. Admittedly, it is good news to hear that Imran Khan has pledged not to restart his street agitation even if the JC’s verdict goes against him, but so far, both because of the time constraint and the ‘evidence’ presented by the PTI so far, things look bleak for the party’s much hyped case. The PML-N’s counsel, Mr Shahid Hamid, argued some interesting points before the JC. He criticised the manner in which the PTI and other parties had castigated the superior judiciary, including a former CJP, as responsible for the rigging. He suggested that contempt may be attracted by such assertions without any evidence or proof. He also pointed out that the accusation of a systematic rigging plan meant the will of the electorate had been deliberately distorted, a charge so serious as to attract Article six (treason). His thrust was that such serious accusations in the absence of proof or evidence did not deserve serious contemplation. Meanwhile the JC directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which has already deposed before the JC that all the allegations of rigging hold no water, to reply to the Balochistan National Party-Awami’s petition that the former chief secretary Balochistan, Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, was involved in the alleged rigging of the elections. Ironically, the officer is now serving as the Secretary ECP. The convoluted saga of the 2013 elections may be drawing to an end. If the JC is not persuaded by the nature and veracity of the matter, documents, etc, placed before it by the parties, its finding seems a foregone conclusion. Were that to transpire, the country will then be left to lick its wounds of the last two years and contemplate what has been gained and what lost in this period of relative paralysis.

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