For any system to survive, it must fulfill at least two minimum requirements. Meet the needs of its customers and have the capacity to improve itself. The first requirement relates to the primary function and purpose of an organization and the second to its ability to detect its own shortcomings and take actions to improve its performance. When an organization cannot meet both these requirements, it becomes a dead horse and a candidate for the tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians. “When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” Regrettably the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is a perfect candidate for the tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians.
The ECP failed completely to deliver on its primary function. It conducted a sham election in 2008 that included 37 million fake votes. It also looked the other way and allowed hundreds of fake degree holders, dual nationals, tax avoiders and law violators to contest elections and become our ‘illegitimate’ law makers. For five long years, the sleepy ECP could not detect that 70 % legislators do not file their tax returns. What can explain a misdemeanor of such magnitude. Incompetence, corruption, connivance, political partisanship or simple cluelessness? Sadly, there were no traces of remorse, no one was held accountable and it was ‘business as usual’ in the corridors of the ECP.
On 23 June 2010, two citizens of Pakistan requested the Supreme Court for suo moto action against two Chief Election Commissioners. Against Justice (Retd.) Qazi Muhammad Farooq for his failure to scrutinize the fake degrees and other credentials of contestants and against Justice (Retd.) Hamid Mirza for his failure to scrutinize the credentials of Jamshed Dasti in 2010 Muzzafargarh by-elections. Mr. Dasti earlier having admitted to faking his degree could not be considered righteous, honest or ‘ameen’ as required by Article 62 of the Constitution. The application for suo moto notice pleaded that the two Chief Election Commissioners be held accountable for the enormous loss of tax payers’ money in the form of salaries and perks paid to the bogus parliamentarians.
Come 2013, and the Pakistanis once again ponder with anxiety and nervousness at the prospects of impending polls. Will the ECP repeat its past performance? Will the ECP once again impose the same or similar set of questionably bogus parliamentarians? Has the ECP been able to create processes to detect its own shortcomings? Has the ECP taken all corrective actions to prevent future errors? Regrettably, there is no evidence that the ECP has been able reform itself.
The ECP’s vulnerability was partly acknowledged when the government recently announced that the ECP be given one month to carry out scrutiny of nomination papers against Article 62 and 63 of the constitution. What appears to be a new and encouraging development, is in fact yet another placebo meant to provide paper ‘relief’ to the people of Pakistan. The law always placed upon the ECP the responsibility to scrutinize the nomination papers. If the ECP did not do this before, why will it do so now. The problem is not with the law but with its implementation.
To be fair to ECP, its helplessness is partly by choice and partly by design. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), a person of rare integrity is practically unable to handle the complex and bureaucratic processes of the ECP. The four members of ECP are political nominees. A large number of senior ECP staff is on ‘extension’. The Election Commissioner of Sindh who was removed for performance-related complaints was not sent home but made the Election Commissioner of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The ECP does not have the muscle, the administrative skills and the wherewithal to harness or order numerous other departments who must directly support the ECP for performing key electoral verifications.
Our parliament has often moved at great speed to create legislation for its own benefits. Can it show only a reflection of this urgency to legislate new laws to revamp the ECP? The CEC and its four members need not necessarily be serving or retired judges. They should all be less than 70 years of age. They should be chosen not by politicians but by a panel consisting of some of the most respected citizens, academics and other distinguished and non-controversial professionals of Pakistan. All departments such as FBR, FIA, NAB, NADRA, Police, HEC, State Bank of Pakistan and Heads of utility companies must be legally bound to respond to ECP’s requests to investigate and certify the relevant portions of the nomination papers. The CEC ought to have powers to disqualify, if a violation of electoral rules is detected any time during the 5 year tenure of a legislator. An ECP that can neither purge the past defaulters nor scrutinize the future offenders ought to be re-engineered, revamped and made more effective. Can the Parliament legislate life and spirit into its much expressed desire for ‘free and fair’ elections.