December 20, 2023
ISLAMABAD – With general elections a little over a month away, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) and the Punjab Bar Council (PbBC) on Tuesday raised concerns over the poll procedure and the conduct of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja.
The top bodies representing the legal fraternity underscored the need for a level playing field and equal opportunities for all stakeholders in the general election scheduled to be held on February 8.
According to a press statement, SCBA President Shahzad Shaukat and Secretary Syed Ali Imran expressed deep concern regarding “mounting discrepancies in election procedures, delimitations and seat allocation” during the 26th executive committee of the association.
They also raised “serious questions about the transparency of elections” under the incumbent CEC.
The two expressed concerns about the commission’s “competence in terms of rising discrepancies in the electoral process close to upcoming elections which raises valid doubts about jeopardising the fairness and impartiality of the electoral process,” the SCBA statement said.
It highlighted that the association “asserts that elections are the cornerstone of the democratic process in the country and must be held on time”.
“Mere adherence to election timelines without addressing grievances may undermine stability rather than contribute to it,” it said, adding the failure to address discrepancies in the electoral process earlier had not only harmed the country but also risked the failure of “achieving meaningful results”.
“Therefore, it is imperative to address these issues effectively to safeguard both the democratic process and national resources,” it pointed out.
It further said that polls should be conducted in a free, fair, and transparent manner, while providing equal opportunities to all stakeholders.
“However, SCBA believes that to achieve the aforesaid objectives, the present CEC should go home as under him, fair and impartial elections with equal opportunity for all, are not possible,” the statement concluded.
In a separate statement, PBC Chairman Hasan Raza Pasha and Vice Chairman Haroonur Rashid raised similar concerns and highlighted the growing perception that elections could not be conducted freely and fairly under CEC Raja.
“A glaring example is the matter of allocation of two National Assembly seats to the CEC’s own native district Jhelum, with a population of 1,382,000 while district Hafizabad, with a population of around 1,320,000, is allocated only one seat,” they said, adding that a similar imbalance was also observed in the allocation of seats for Rawalpindi.
The statement noted that despite its lower population compared to the Gujranwala division, an additional seat had been allocated to Rawalpindi, raising questions about the transparency of the electoral process.
“It is evident that the conduct of the CEC raises serious doubts about the integrity of the general elections, presenting an environment that appears to lack transparency entirely,” the statement said.
“In the light of these circumstances, the PBC cannot turn a blind eye to these critical matters. They stress that the Supreme Court of Pakistan, as the highest constitutional court, must take notice of these discrepancies instead of endorsing every act of the CEC.
“The PBC firmly believes that the primary objective is not merely holding elections but conducting them in a free, fair and transparent manner, providing equal opportunities to all stakeholders,” it added.
The PBC further said that it would soon convene an all-Pakistan representative convention to formulate and announce a line of action in consultation with the SCBA.
“The aim is to ensure the cause of free, fair and transparent general elections which is not possible in the presence of incumbent CEC, as it seems, he has different codes for every political party or individual,” the statement concluded.
The SHCBA also issued a separate statement, asserting the need for the Feb 8 polls to proceed as planned. It also emphasised the need for all political parties and independent candidates to be given a level playing field and equal opportunities.
The SHCBA expressed “serious concerns” over the CEC’s conduct concerning election procedures, delimitation and seat allocations while highlighting the “growing perception” that transparent polls could not be conducted in Raja’s presence.
The association said that Rawalpindi had been allocated an additional seat despite having a lower population. “It is evident that the conduct of the CEC raises serious doubts about the integrity of the general elections, presenting an environment that appears to lack transparency and fair play,” it said, adding that it fully supported the concerns raised by the PBC.
Separately, the PbBC also expressed concern about the CEC. It noted that transparent elections were essential to restore public confidence.
The PbBC said the Supreme Court should take note of “irregularities” in the CEC’s conduct instead of “validating” his every move.
It said the basic objective was not merely to hold polls but to do so after providing equal opportunities to all stakeholders in a fair, transparent and equal manner.
ECP rejects claims of seat allocation
Meanwhile, the ECP rejected the PBC’s claims that CEC Raja had allocated additional seats in his hometown.
In a press release, the electoral body clarified that the CEC’s native constituency was NA-82 in Sargodha district and no additional seat had been allocated there.
“The commission has expressed that it cannot allocate additional seats on the personal wishes of any individual,” the ECP said, adding that the watchdog would not be pressurised or blackmailed by anyone.
Today’s developments come as several petitions have been filed in the top court challenging the delimitation of constituencies, especially in Balochistan.
A day earlier, while hearing one such plea, the top court had ruled that objections against delimitations could not be raised after the election schedule was released, slamming doors of any possible delay in the Feb 8 general elections.