Political parties reject lawyer bodies ‘no legal standing’ demand of CEC removal

With elections less than two months away, political actors say CEC’s removal could push delay polls further

  • PPP says CEC’s removal could push delay polls further.
  • PML-N says allegations against CEC are ambiguous.
  • PTI says demand “justified”, but the timing is “wrong”.

Major political parties Tuesday rejected the demand of top lawyers’ bodies seeking the removal of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, terming the demand of no legal basis, as general elections are less than two months away.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA), and the Punjab Bar Council (PBC) had raised concerns over the election procedure and CEC Raja’s conduct.

The general elections are closing in, but there seems to be a new controversy every other day that might affect the sought-after polls, prompting fears that the already delayed polls might be pushed further forward.

While several political parties gave a host of reasons as to why the elections should not take place on February 8, 2024, the Supreme Court has closed all doors for putting the elections forward — as now no court can entertain any petition challenging delimitation carried out by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) anymore.

The politicos have also raised questions about whether caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar–ul–Haq Kakar’s administration can ensure free, fair, and transparent elections, as are allegedly favouring the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

In a statement, the SCBA expressed “deep concerns regarding the mounting discrepancies in election procedures, delimitations and seat allocations” that had raised “serious questions about the transparency of elections under” CEC Raja.

“Mere adherence to election timelines without addressing grievances may undermine stability rather than contribute to it,” the SCBA said. “Therefore, it is imperative to address these issues effectively to safeguard both the democratic process and national resources.”

“The present Chief Election Commissioner should go home as under him, free, fair and impartial elections with equal opportunity for all, are not possible,” the SCBA demanded.

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

In response, the ECP said in a statement that it would not “bow to any pressure or blackmailing”.

During Geo News’ show “Capital Talk”, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) rejected the lawyer bodies’ demand for Raja’s removal.

PTI Senator Barrister Ali Zafar said during the show that the demand for the CEC’s resignation was “justified”, but the timing was “wrong”. He said since it is the ECP’s job to conduct polls, it should be respected as an institution.

“If the ECP makes a wrong decision then it should be criticised […] but there is no legal standing of the demand for the chief election commissioner’s resignation,” Zafar noted.

He, however, said the election commission provides a level playing field to all political parties. “Moreover, I also don’t see the chief election commissioner stepping down himself.”

PML-N’s senior leader Khurram Dastagir said the allegations against the CEC are ambiguous, but if there is evidence to back them, it should be brought forward.

“The present chief election commissioner’s tenure is until 2025,” he noted and slammed the PTI, saying that it was the party’s former chief, Imran Khan, who had appointed CEC Raja when he was the prime minister.

PPP leader Nasir Hussain Shah said the removal of CEC Raja from office could become “a reason” for delaying elections as he rejected the lawyer bodies’ demand.

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