ISLAMABAD: Dispelling the impression of large-scale rigging in the 2013 elections, former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim has said that the political leadership of the country should not let democracy derailed and made it clear that there was no pressure from former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) with regard to the elections 2013.
Asking Fakhru Bhai to ‘break his silence,’ was never easy, particularly in a situation when a leading opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has termed the election 2013 most fraudulent, demanding resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and fresh elections under the new Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
While most of the conversation remained ‘off the record,’ he allowed this scribe to use some of it ‘on record,’ particularly when asked about his ‘regrets’ during his term, and ‘proposals’ to improve the electoral process.
His three regrets include (1) Army should have been given a more supportive role, (2) Elections should have been held in phases, and (3) Serving judges should have been appointed as Chairman Election Tribunal making it necessary for them to give the verdicts within 120 days. Fakhru Bhai advised the political leadership to show patience and not to let democracy ‘derailed.’
For the new ECP and electoral reforms, he suggested (1) No serving bureaucrat should be in the ECP (2) Voting should be made compulsory (3) ECP members should not be from the judiciary but should have an experience of dealing with administration with good reputation (4) Elections should be held in phases like in India, considering the resources and manpower (5) ECP’s bureaucratic structure should also be revamped. Fakhruddin G Ebrahim had told the then leader of the opposition Ch Nisar Ali Khan, who approached him to accept the job that he would quit as the CEC after the elections despite having a five-year term in the office.
A retired judge, who already draws Rs600,000 as pension could have been getting an additional Rs600,000 as the CEC, till the expiry of his term, meaning Rs1,200,000 a month. But, Fakhru Bhai stepped down as per his commitment.
Since the resignation of Fakhru Bhai, the government and the opposition have been unable to agree on a single candidate for the Chief Election Commissioner. Within a year, they were supposed to agree on four other ECP members as the incumbent ECP members’ tenure would expire in a year. The ECP perhaps also needs a new secretary as the present one is already on extension. Perhaps, the people from the civil society with administrative background should also be considered as ECP members.
The way forward is a complete overhauling of the ECP, making it stronger and more independent. Fakhruddin G Ebrahim was appointed as the CEC when Ch Nisar Ali Khan approached him and requested him to accept the job because he was the only among the three candidates who enjoyed the confidence of all the major political parties.
He did not accept his plea that holding such a huge task was not his ‘cup of tea’, particularly at this age. He was 84 at that time. Nisar insisted there was a consensus on his name and even Imran Khan had full confidence in him.
Khan, who once offered Fakhru Bhai to contest the elections as his party candidate, had also met him after he accepted the job for two, three times and also spoke to him after the polls.When he first met former army chief General (retd) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, he found him a nice man and till this day had good relations with him. He asked the general if he could post one officer at each polling station but the ex-army chief regretted, saying that it was not possible. The army did help in maintaining law and order.
Fakhru Bhai was perhaps looking for a more supportive role of the army for the smooth process during polling, particularly during the counting.“I asked the army chief for one officer at each polling station, but he said it’s not possible for him,” he said.
His other regret was that his plea for holding the elections in phases like in India was not accepted by his fellow colleagues.“Yes, I believe elections should have and should be held in phases because of the limited resources and manpower. However, my colleagues did not agree with me.”
However, he did not agree with critics that former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry put any pressure on him during the elections, except when he asked for voting verification in Karachi, without realising the limited resources and manpower available to the ECP.
It was not possible to verify several million voters and to go house-to-house in Karachi. Even the then corps commander, Karachi refused to do so on the ground that it would not be possible to assign one army personnel with each ECP team to go house-to-house. The maximum he agreed on deployment of troops in the area for security.
He also believed that voting should be made compulsory in the new electoral reforms. Everyone who qualifies and reaches the voting age must cast his/her vote. Elections decide the destiny of a nation and every person must participate in the elections.
He was of the view that for complete independent ECP, it should be better to avoid appointing serving bureaucrats or giving them extension. Perhaps, good administrators are required not necessarily people from the judiciary as members.
He faced a lot of criticism during and after the elections, but not many people knew about his integrity as he had the history of resigning on principles.As a Supreme Court judge, who could have become the Chief Justice of Pakistan, he refused oath under General Ziaul Haq’s Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) in 1981.
He was the only governor in the history of Pakistan, who had refused to dissolve the Sindh Assembly in 1990 when former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the National Assembly and all the provincial assemblies on August 6, 1990. Thus, he was removed and late Mahmood A Haroon was appointed governor and the assembly was dissolved after the office timing. But, during his brief tenure he constituted the Citizen-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) to bridge the gap between the police and common citizens.
When former prime minister Benazir Bhutto appointed him as the Attorney General for Pakistan, he resigned because he was not consulted on a legal matter and the case was given to Sharifuddin Pirzada without his consent.
“I am too old. At the age of 85, it would not have been possible for me to continue,” he said. Though he dispelled the impression of large-scale rigging in the elections and about the pressure on him from any quarter including the former chief justice, he said had the elections were held in phases like in India, it would have been much better.He was all praise for the Indian Election Commission and was surprised when told by the chief election commissioner of India that they never got a single petition against the elections.