Fair elections not possible under CEC Raja: top lawyers' bodies

2 months ago 48
Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja addressing a ceremony. — ECP website/File Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja addressing a ceremony. — ECP website/File

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) — the top lawyers’ bodies of the country — have raised concerns over the transparency of the upcoming polls, saying that fair polls are not possible under the incumbent chief election commissioner.

In a statement on Tuesday, PBC Vice-Chairman Haroon-ur-Rashid and Chairman Executive Committee Hassan Raza Pasha asserted the crucial need for the general elections to proceed as planned on February 8, 2024.

They emphasise the necessity of all political parties and independent candidates to be provided a level playing field and equal opportunities, ensuring transparency and fairness in the electoral process.

While expressing their serious concerns over the conduct of the CEC, regarding election procedures, delimitations, and seat allocations, they “highlighted the growing perception that in the presence of the incumbent CECP, elections cannot be conducted freely and transparently”.

The PBC cited a “glaring example” of the allocation of two National Assembly seats to the CEC’s own native district Jhelum, with a population of 1,382,000 approximately while district Hafizabad, with a population of around 320,000 is allocated only one seat.

“A similar imbalance is observed in the allocation of seats for District Rawalpindi. Despite its lower population compared to Gujranwala Division, an additional seat has been allocated, raising questions about the transparency of the electoral process,” it added.

The PBC said it is evident that the conduct of CEC Raja raises serious doubts about the integrity of the general elections, “presenting an environment that appears to lack transparency entirely”.

In light of these circumstances, the PBC said it cannot turn a blind eye to these critical matters.

The lawyers’ body also called upon the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take notice of these discrepancies “instead of endorsing every act” of the CEC.

“The PBC firmly believes that the primary objective is not merely holding elections but conducting them in a free, fair, and transparent manner, providing equal opportunities to all stakeholders.”

The PBC said it will soon convene an all Pakistan representative convention to formulate and announce a line of action and date for a lawyers' movement in consultation with SCBA.

“The aim is to ensure the cause of free, fair, and transparent general elections which is not possible in the presence of the incumbent Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan, as it seems, he has different codes for every political party or individual.”

ECP rejects PBC allegations

Responding to allegations, a spokesperson for the ECP said no new seat was carved out in the native constituency of the CEC.

In a statement, the ECP spokesperson said CEC Raja’s home constituency is NA-182 in Sargodha.

The ECP will not “bow to any pressure or blackmailing,” the statement added.

SCBA to CEC: 'Go home'

In a separate statement, SCBA President Shahrad Shaukat, and Secretary Syed Ali Imran have expressed their deep concern regarding the mounting discrepancies in election procedures, delimitations, and seat allocations and have further raised serious questions about the transparency of elections under the incumbent CEC.

While emphasising the imperative of holding general elections at its scheduled time, the SCBA underscored the need for a level playing field and equal opportunities for all stakeholders.

However, the top lawyers body further expressed concerns about the Election Commission's competence in terms of rising discrepancies in the electoral process close to upcoming elections which raises valid doubts about jeopardising the fairness and impartiality of the electoral process.

“This association asserts that elections are the cornerstone of the democratic process in the country and must be held on time.”

Mere adherence to election timelines without addressing grievances may undermine stability rather than contribute to it, the statement added.

Previously, the SCBA said neglecting to address discrepancies in the electoral process before the polls have not only harmed the country but also risked the failure to achieve meaningful results, imposing a burden on the public exchequer and expending valuable resources.

The SCBA said, “in order to achieve the aforesaid objectives, the present chief election commissioner should go home as under him, fair and impartial elections with equal opportunity for all, are not possible”.