February Issue 2013
“We are making arrangements to ensure a maximum turnout”
Do you think you will be able to hold free and fair polls?
There is no alternative to democracy and I am glad all institutions of the state now understand this. Free and fair elections are essential for promoting democratic values. I left my very comfortable practice and accepted this job, not only as a challenge but as a passion to do something for this country. I am a beneficiary of Pakistan and it’s time to pay back.
Today, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has no veto power and, as such, I only have one vote like the other four members. But there is complete consensus among all of us. So we are making all arrangements to ensure a maximum turnout on polling day. That is why we have added 20,000 new polling stations and their total strength is now 80,000. There has also been an increase in the number of registered voters, which has now reached a figure of 85 million. What is most encouraging is the fact that a very large number of youth have got themselves registered as voters.
So far I have not noticed or smelt any conspiracy against the holding of free and fair polls. Law and order is one of the most important aspects of this exercise and for this purpose we have engaged the army, particularly for the polling day.
I know that our past is not something we can be proud of, but I want to ensure that people have confidence in the results. Voters have a lot of responsibility and we will try to make them even more responsible.
Opposition parties held a dharna outside the ECP office on February 3 to lend you their support.
The ECP today is very strong and the SC has also given it enormous powers. We will not bow before any pressure, and at the moment, there is none. As I stated earlier, we are as powerful as the Indian EC.
But is the Election Commission strong enough today to check the rigging of polls or foil conspiracies?
After the Supreme Court verdict in the Workers Party case, it has unprecedented powers — almost equal to that of the Indian Election Commission.
So what measures are you taking to ensure fair polls, as some political parties have already expressed their reservations?
Political parties have asked for deployment of the army inside the polling stations, so we have requested the army to station at least one officer in each polling station. The army will also accompany the vans which will be carrying the ballot boxes.
“So far I have not noticed or smelt any conspiracy against the holding of free and fair polls. Law and order is one of the most important aspects of this exercise and for this purpose we have engaged the army, particularly for the polling day. I know that our past is not something we can be proud of, but I want to ensure that people have confidence in the results. Voters have a lot of responsibility and we will try to make them even more responsible.”
If, under the law, we are given 30 days for the scrutiny of the nomination papers — I like Allama Tahirul Qadri’s proposal — the EC will have a lot of time to examine the merits of all candidates. For this purpose we are also bringing changes in the nomination papers. Now columns for the candidates’ NTN number, his/her merits, case details in case of bank defaulters, dual nationality etc will be introduced. Those candidates who are in the present assemblies may also be asked to give a brief about their past performance as they will be going back to the public [once again for a vote].
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was disappointed with the ECP’s role in the last by-elections in Punjab, and complained that you did not address their grievances?
After PTI’s complaints regarding the use of government funds to promote political leaders in government ads, I have banned this practice and, since then, there have been no further complaints. Similarly, I have also taken notice of the use of development funds but the government has decided to go to the Supreme Court. Let us see what the SC does [in this regard].
People may have reservations about the ECP, and everyone has the right to express them. We are trying to do our best and will further improve our working in the general elections. Even full-time judges will head election tribunals and decisions will come in the shortest possible time — something which has never happened before.
But Allama Qadri has also asked for the dissolution of the EC?
Everyone has a right to say whatever he or she wants to, but the Constitution is quite clear. I don’t know whether someone is asking for a dissolution of the EC, which comprises hundreds of people, or simply four members, for which they will have to file a reference before the Supreme Judicial Council and cite good reasons for their demand.
You met with General Kayani last month. How was the experience?
My impression of him after this meeting with him at a neutral place, the NADRA office, was quite different from that of military dictators. Since I don’t meet men in uniform, I did not even recognise him for the first 20 minutes, and I thought I was talking to some senior general. It was only when I said, give my regards to your chief, that he said, “I am Kayani.” He was very clear and firm about free and fair elections as being the only alternative. He offered all support required for the elections.
Is the security situation a major concern in the coming elections?
Yes. I am really worried about the amount of weapons in the possession of groups and individuals. These weapons are more sophisticated than the ones used by our security forces or police. Political parties have also asked for the army’s presence at the polling stations. We have requested for at least one officer for one station, which means 80,000 officers. On polling day, we may ask for deployment of army in sensitive areas.
How will you implement Articles 62 and 63, as these are quite tough?
We are making some drastic changes in the nomination papers to include complete details about a candidate’s tax record, cases, default and even performance, if they were members of the national or provincial assemblies.
Now, if we get 30 days for scrutiny, the voters can file objections and we will have ample time to verify the facts. The objections can be filed with the Returning Officer, who would, after verification, judge whether the candidate is a good man or not. It would not be difficult for the EC or the people to assess a candidate’s conduct in this manner.
Post-election, too, we will hire the services of full-time judges as chief of election tribunals to hear the petitions and dispose off a matter as soon as possible. Presently, it takes years to decide the appeals.
Does the EC have the power to disqualify the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Raja Pervez Ashraf if they were to fall under these articles?
No matter how big he or she may be, if they are liable for disqualification, they will be disqualified.
How will you prevent President Zardari from conducting PPP’s election campaign from the presidency, as he had announced that he would be spearheading it?
I expect him to respect the office of the president. He cannot run the campaign, nor can he address political rallies, public meetings etc. I will ensure a level playing field for all the candidates and will not allow the use of government machinery. Besides, the president represents the federation and he must avoid using his office for party work.
I have not met him after assuming my office as chief election commissioner, neither have I met the chief ministers and governors. How the EC will stop him, is another issue. Different options are under consideration, including action against the candidates whose rally the president (if at all) addresses during the campaign. There are other proposals as well and court orders are also there. But I hope he avoids all these controversies.
We have already issued a code of conduct and will ensure its complete implementation in letter and spirit.
Senior PPP leaders like Senator Raza Rabbani express fears of a conspiracy to derail democracy and bring in a long-term interim set-up. What role can the EC play in preventing it?
If anything like this were to happen, it would be disastrous for the country, as it will be unconstitutional. I can only say that I would seriously consider my own future in the EC, if such a move were to succeed.
Do you see a delay in the elections, if any new provinces were to be created before the polls?
I doubt it, but if the parliament were to succeed in doing so, then we will have to increase the number of members of the Election Commission according to the requirement.
How will you monitor the expenditures incurred by candidates towards their election campaigns?
You must have noticed that now there are no government advertisements with photographs of politicians. We plan to monitor the number of ads which will appear after the announcement of the election schedule.
Political parties, particularly the opposition parties, are insisting on the delimitation of Karachi in accordance with the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision. Why do you say it is not possible?
I still stand by my statement that delimitation at the moment is not possible and if we touched upon the issue, it could have far-reaching implications and may lead to the postponement of elections. It is not easy, as there has been no fresh census. There are a lot of complications in delimitation at this stage. I am aware of the SC decision and if the court summons me regarding this issue, I will certainly try to satisfy them.
“My impression of Kayani after this meeting was quite different from that of military dictators. Since I don’t meet men in uniform, I did not even recognise him for the first 20 minutes, and thought I was talking to some senior general.It was only when I said, give my regards to your chief, that he said, ‘I am Kayani.’ He was very clear and firm about free and fair elections as being the only alternative. He offered all support required for the elections.”
Many senior politicians, including Allama Tahirul Qadri, have raised questions about your age and capacity to undertake such a hectic responsibility. Is the burden beginning to tell on you?
You are never too old or too young, provided you have a passion to live for a cause — and the cause is free and fair elections. I can only say, never say goodbye to optimism. One of the most positive things I have noticed in recent years is the consciousness among our youth, who dream of change.
Will you quit if brought under pressure?
No, I will fight and will ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country. I know my job well and you know me quite well.
As chief election commissioner, is there any message you would to like to give to the people of Pakistan?
There is no alternative to democracy, and the essence of democracy is free and fair elections. The change can come through elections, and for that change people must come in large numbers to cast their votes. I hope all the new voters, along with the old voters, use this opportunity to vote for change.