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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

NA 120 Elections: Test Case for Election Commission of Pakistan?

News Analysis |

NA-120 by-election, in Lahore, scheduled for Sept 17, is fast approaching, however the general public has yet to grasp its significance. Few realize that this election will determine the fate of Sharif family and if it will continue to control PMLN. No wonder then that all agencies of the federal and Punjab government are active to ensure a landslide victory for Kulsum Nawaz – her campaign is being run by no one else but her daughter and Sharif family’s “Heir Apparent”, Maryam Nawaz.

While PPP, JI and many independent candidates are also fighting for this national assembly seat vacated as a result of ex-Premier, Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, but for all practical purposes this by-election has morphed into a battle of wills between PTI and PML-N. The question of who will be the victor, and with what margin is definitely significant but it is not the only important aspect. Conduct of this election will determine if Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is capable of providing a level playing field to the opposition parties.

Unfortunately, judging from media reports and increasingly strident protests by opposition parties – especially PTI candidate – it looks that Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is failing in that test.

Analysts believe that if the ECP fails to prove its independence from governments in Islamabad and Lahore and its capacity as an unbiased regulator in this by-election, then the 2018 general election will also lose their credibility.

Dr. Yasmin and PTI have demanded that these unverifiable voters be removed from the list but the ECP has failed to act on this issue.

ECP is facing criticism, on many counts but mismanagement of the voter list is most imporant. GVS reached out to Dr. Yasmin Rashid, PTI’s candidate for the seat of NA-120, who gave us a firsthand account of the issues she is facing in her campaign. Dr. Yasmin informed her that the initial voter list she was given was of 330,000 but this was old and not verified. Upon her request, the ECP then produced a verified voter list comprising of 324,000 names but soon afterward the ECP revealed that 30,000 new voters have registered, in the seven months, since Dec 2016, while almost the same number had joined since June 2013, in almost three and half years.

So how could 30,000 then join in only last seven months? Dr. Rashid has sent applications to ECP to clarify that, however to this day there is no response from ECP. Perhaps more important is that 29,000 voters from this list, of ECP,could not be verified by NADRA. PTI demands that these 29,000 unverified voters be struck off the list; but both ECP and NADRA are silent. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, senior PTI leader and former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, under PPP government, demanded the cancellation of these 29,000 votes in a press conference, before Eid ul Azha, but there is no response from ECP so far.

Read More: What if Kulsoom Nawaz doesn’t win from NA-120?

In addition to this, ECP has a strange illogical “Code of Conduct” that bars all party leaders (like Imran Khan & Bilawal Bhutto) and MNAs and MPA to visit the constituency for campaign. While ECP stringently enforces this on opposition, it fails to enforce the same code of conduct, to ruling party.  In the past few days, 16 different ministers and senators of the PML-N were seen actively campaigning on behalf of Kulsoom Nawaz. By law, public office holders cannot participate or use their influence in an election campaign and if they breach the code of conduct, they are liable to initiation of legal proceedings against them by the ECP.

The ECP recently barred Food Minister Bilal Yaseen from visiting NA-120 constituency but according to Dr. Yasmin, this was just a move to save face and placate critics as the damage has already been done.

“The regional election commission seems to be totally paralyzed,” said Dr. Yasmin Rashid while talking to GVS.

“It is like hitting your head against a wall,” remarked Dr. Yasmin Rashid while recounting her struggles to ensure fairness in the upcoming poll.

A tender for development was issued by the Punjab government on 4th of August despite the fact that the schedule for the election had been released on August 1st. This was a clear violation of election rules and when PTI lodged a complaint to the regional election commission they insisted that this issue would have to be reviewed by the central election commission when in fact it is the constitutional duty of the Regional Election Commission to pursue such issues.

Read More: It is Yasmeen vs Kulsoom in NA-120

“It is like hitting your head against a wall,” remarked Dr. Yasmin Rashid while recounting her struggles to ensure fairness in the upcoming poll.

Some analysts, GVS has spoken to, think that given these odds, PTI should have boycotted the elections in NA-120. But despite these challenges, Dr. Yasmin expressed optimism. According to her: PTI’s massive awareness drive on social media and Imran Khan’s rallies have created momentum for PTI in this crucial electoral battle. Perhaps PTI hopes to demonstrate that despite the failure of ECP in providing level playing field, PTI can still narrow the lead – in May 2013, Nawaz Sharif had won this constituency by almost 40,000 votes. Results of Sept 17, will thus be interesting.

Reporting by Mohammad Azam, with additional input by GVS News Desk