February Issue 2008
Interview: Muhammad Latif Khan Khosa
“The king’s party has flouted the EC’s Code of conduct with impunity”
– Muhammad Latif Khan Khosa, Chairman of the Central Election Monitoring Cell, PPP
Q: Are you satisfied with the performance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)? Does it enjoy sufficient powers or is it simply a toothless body?
A: There is no doubt about the supremacy of this institution, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan. But unfortunately, the rulers themselves have little respect for the constitution and what it dictates. It’s a fact that the constitution grants the Chief Election Commissioner [CEC] such autonomy that not even the parliament can legislate on his powers. However, the situation on ground is that the PPP has filed around 1200 complaints regarding violations of election rules with the commission, but not even a fraction of them have been addressed.
Q: But the ECP claims to have addressed several major complaints…
A: There may be a few cases, but these amount to nothing more than mere eyewash. For example, the commission has restrained the speaker of the National Assembly, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, from visiting his constituency while he holds the charge of acting president of Pakistan. This is not what we had demanded. Our plea was that he should have been disqualified from the elections as he had violated Articles 47 and 48 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Q: What other major violations of election rules have you observed during your visits to different parts of the country?
A: Without any exaggeration, I’d say that the King’s Party has flouted each and every clause in the code with impunity. They have full control over the state machinery as President Musharraf is their mentor as well as their saviour. In his autobiography In the Line of Fire, President Musharraf himself confessed that he had founded the PML-Q to achieve the ‘desired’ results. The local bodies are fully supporting the Q-League candidates, and it’s a fact that close relatives of no less than 100 district and town Nazims are contesting the general elections. Even the sister and nephew of the caretaker prime minister of Pakistan are contesting the elections. In addition to this, transfers and postings of civil servants are taking place to this day, despite strict warnings issued by the ECP.
We have also filed complaints about improvised polling stations which the government says it intends to set up in tents — but we have doubts that they will exist only on paper. We have also heard that the government is setting up polling stations in privately-owned buildings. This is totally illegal, as polling stations have to be set up in state-owned buildings/premises.
Q: Your monitoring teams have been visiting different constituencies to monitor the polling process. To what extent are local governments complying with the directions given by the ECP?
A: It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the Election Commission’s code of conduct is being treated as a joke by the state machinery. Development schemes are being launched and inaugurated by the government to give a boost to the campaigns launched by the PML-Q candidates. Local governments are literally spearheading the campaigns of these candidates, as was observed in Attock where the district Nazim had sponsored banners and hoardings of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. These banners and hoardings were removed when EU observers were visiting the constituency.
In Lahore, Moonis Elahi, son of Punjab’s former chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, is using the state machinery and funds to secure votes. There are allegations that his supporters are offering Rs.1500 per identity card to their holders. They will keep these ID cards with them till the election day so as to block any votes to opposition candidates, even if it means that the PML-Q itself will not be able to use these ID cards to cast votes in favour of Moonis. Moonis has also been accused of doling out cheques worth millions of rupees from Punjab’s Baitul Maal fund to the Christians in his constituency on the eve of Christmas. Allegedly, Pervaiz Elahi has also sent cheques worth Rs.500 each to poor voters from the Kafalat Fund, with the promise that they would continue to get this assistance every month.