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Sunday, April 14, 2024

The conundrum of chief election commissioner in Pakistan

For credible elections to take place the CEC has to be pushed out as the appointing authority has realized its mistake. An honorable exit calls for an immediate resignation which is most unlikely, there has to be a targeted strategy to correct the blunder to move forward in the best national interests.

Sikander Sultan Raja, son-in-law of Saeed Mehdi Ex-PSPM (Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister) was appointed CEC (Chief Election Commissioner) in January 2020. He is a career bureaucrat who served under Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as Secretary of Railways. According to Shahbaz Sharif (SS), he was the nominee of the then Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan (IK).

Unfortunately, the influence of Sharif in the bureaucracy has been grossly underestimated by the government of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) both at the federal and provincial levels. Several blue-eyed officers of the PML-N-led administration managed to get important postings through the hidden ‘Baboo Networks’. There is a long list of such botched appointments which have come to haunt IK.

Read more: By-Election 2022: Winner and Losers

Bureaucrats control the files and the associated paperwork

They can easily manipulate the summaries and the search process. PSPM Azam Khan ran the PM Secretariat with complete authority as he had the trust of the PM. Currently, he is being investigated by F.I.A (Federal Investigation Agency). Though he himself did not belong to the ‘ Sharif Baboo Network ‘ but he was unable to contain them. While the world knew about the credentials of Raja Sahib and his close links with the ‘Sharifs ‘ the same were not highlighted to the PM at the time of the selection. It is alleged that Sheikh Rashid was happy with the performance of the Secretary of his ministry and recommended him for this important position.

There was a time when Pakistan Railways were a pride of the nation. The network was run by a Railway Board comprised of professionals and led by a chairman who was a Railway man, not a know-all bureaucrat. Ever since the board was dismantled and handed over to the Ministry it has been down the hill. I am curious to know about the exploits of Raja Sahib as Secretary Railways on the basis of which he was considered fit for the coveted slot of CEC. Non-professional management has destroyed the largest land carrier in the country

Conducting credible, free and fair elections has been a big challenge in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (IRP). After the enactment of the 1973 constitution, only judges of the superior judiciary could hold this position. The 1977 elections were held under Justice Sajjad Ahmed Jan a very respected retired judge of the Supreme Court. The movement that was launched after the electoral contest on allegations of rigging not only derailed the democratic order it also brought a bad name to the CEC who decided to step down as he was a man of honor.

As national elections require a lot of logistic support from the administrative machinery, in India individuals with field experience are appointed to hold elections. Impressed by the transparent electoral process of our neighbors, I started to support this approach. Finally, after the 18th amendment bureaucrats were allowed to hold this position.

Read more: ECP delays local bodies elections in Karachi

Sikander Sultan Raja is perhaps the first member of the bureaucracy who managed to land in this slot but with disastrous consequences. I partly share the blame for this disastrous suggestion. Today Bhutto stands vindicated as he understood the bureaucracy well and wanted them to be kept away from political contests. In the past, only Judges were allowed to hold this position.

PTI the largest political party of the republic has time and again shown its disdain at the partisan conduct of the CEC. A reference was filed against him in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) in August 2022 while another has been filed this month. Honor demands that Raja Sahib, gracefully go home like Justices Sajjad Ahmed Jan and Fakharuddin G. Ibrahim who after failing to deliver a credible election decided to step down.

By contrast, bureaucrats cling to power and seldom resign

I still think that the position of CEC calls for an administrative experience which the judges do not have but then bureaucracy over the years has been tainted to a point of no return. Favoritism and loyalty have been a norm in their selection and promotion, the neutrality and professionalism that once existed are no more to be seen.

Most bureaucrats still operate under the Victorian Government of India Acts totally ignoring the constitution of the republic. Finding a suitable candidate amongst their cadre requires a thorough evaluation which was not done in this case. Bureaucrats stand by their fellow officers and cover and protect their misdeeds and maladministration. Time and again I have been told by the senior officers that were duty-bound to defend the decisions taken by their peers even if they were incorrect or unethical.

It has been my experience that the Royal Colonial Bureaucracy of Pakistan cannot deliver relief to the public with Punjab being the worst. Their evilness was neither understood nor addressed by the PTI government. Without a major shake-up, the situation will not get better. Even today despite their regime in the province delivery to the public is dismal.

Read more: President urges parties to evolve consensus on early elections

The Chief Minster Secretariat operates under closed gates in GOR where entry is controlled. Mafia continues to call the shots. Botched appointments lead to botched results which the nation has to endure. It is time to take stock of all such selections and reverse them before it is too late. For credible elections to take place the CEC has to be pushed out as the appointing authority has realised its mistake. An honorable exit calls for an immediate resignation which is most unlikely, there has to be a targeted strategy to correct the blunder to move forward in the best national interests.



The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at  fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.