ECP`s `bias`

THE pressure is mounting on the ECP, with another major party expressing serious concerns over the political environment. Over the course of last week, several senior PPP leaders issued strong statements against the `absence of a level playing field` in the run-up to the polls. The party`s chairman publicly stated that he does not think political parties are free to function or campaign independently, and, on Thursday, the party`s information secretary told the press that the PPP is concerned over the appointment of several PML-N `loyalists` in the interim set-up. `The concern among party members is that the PML-N is getting a kind of favour in the current caretaker set-ups in the federal and Punjab governments.

And it`s no more secret,` she said. The PTI, too, shared similar objections over the appointment in the caretaker government of several bureaucrats seen as being close to the Sharifs.

The two parties` concerns reflect rather poorly on the ECP: it is, after all, the commission`s constitutional responsibility to ensure that elections are held in an environment which does not favour or jeopardise any political stakeholder`s interests.

Interestingly, the commission seems to be tacitly acknowledging that the playing field is no longer level. It has written to the caretaker prime minister`s secretary, advising him against inducting `persons of known political allegiance`. If the caretaker set-up has been infiltrated by politically inclined persons, which the ECP concedes, the fairness of any election conducted by it will invariably be brought into question. It may be recalled that one of the excuses given by the ECP for not conducting the KP and Punjab elections earlier this year was that future elections held under the governments formed by political parties in these provinces would not be free or fair. The same logic ought to apply to party loyalists.

Not too long ago, it was only the PTI which seemed to have a problem with the manner in which the ECP was conducting itself. But while the PTI and Mr Khan`s criticism of the commission, its chief commissioner and their alleged `bias` may initially have been a ploy to push them off the various legal actions they were pursuing, it has lately started seeming somewhat justified. It may be recalled that in failing to challenge the state`s attempts to thwart the PTI, which had wanted early elections in KP, the ECP has already violated the Constitution by failing to adhere to the prescribed 90-day timeline. It is not only about to repeat that violation again, but it also does not seem committed to the positions it had taken earlier. This is morally and legally indefensible. The commission must adhere to its constitutional responsibility and immediately address the concerns that are being raised.

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