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July 13, 2018

ECP’s ‘no see, no hear, no speak policy’ on Punjab crackdown


July 13, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has adopted “no see, no hear, no speak” policy towards the Punjab government’s controversial crackdown against PML-N workers in Lahore and Rawalpindi. While the PML-N leadership has already demanded of the ECP to take notice of what the caretaker Punjab government is doing against its workers, the commission has not yet spared any time even to discuss the issue.

The ECP spokesman, when contacted on Thursday, said that there is no such discussion taken place in the commission. The spokesman rather explained that the Lahore crackdown is part of an administrative measure being taken to maintain law and order situation.

Though the ECP does not see anything unusual in such crackdowns, even the staunch opponents of N-League condemn it. PPP leader and ex-Senator Saeed Ghani said, “All political differences aside, I strongly condemn the crackdown on PML-N workers in Punjab.” Senator Sherry Rehman has also raised the issue of PML-N workers’ arrest in the upper house.

Even Shaikh Rashid Ahmad was quoted by a TV channel having shown his reservations to the Punjab government’s crackdown against PML-N workers in Rawalpindi. Independent journalists, associated with different media houses in Pakistan, were also seen condemning on social media the Punjab government for martial law like midnight knocks, arrests and crackdown on PML-N workers across Lahore.

Senior journalist Nasim Zehra said that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz are returning to be arrested following their conviction by the accountability court. “R (are) they violating the law or abiding by law? Which law forbids party workers 2 (to) assemble, 2 (to) respond to a pol(itical) call? Why this martial law style midnight knocks & arrest & crackdown across Lahore,” she tweeted on Thursday.

Dawn’s anchorperson Mubashar Zaidi said in his tweet that shame on caretaker Punjab government for launching a crackdown on PML-N workers ahead of the return of Nawaz and Maryam. “This is facism,”Zaidi said.

Senior anchorperson Syed Talat Hussain tweeted, “Hundreds of party workers arrested in Lahore and elsewhere by caretaker government in Punjab before Nawaz and Maryam’s arrival in one the widest crackdowns in recent years. And this by a caretaker government that is supposed to supervise fair polls!” There has been a lot of condemnation of the Punjab caretaker chief minister in the social media for what is seen as his biased approach against one party. Senior journalist Murtaza Solangi commented, “Dr Hasan Askari, now that you have disgraced yourself and us all in the process, it is better you resign over the violation of fundamental rights in the province formally under your administrative control. You have no credibility left in future either in academia or the media.”

Functions of caretaker government as envisaged in the Election Act 2017 bound such a government to remain non-controversial and be impartial to every person and political party. The act clearly says that the caretaker government shall not attempt to influence the elections or do or cause to be done anything, which may, in any manner, influence or adversely affect the free and fair elections.

As against what the law expects from the caretaker set-up, the Punjab government, in a crackdown, has not only arrested a large number of PML-N workers but has also imposed Section 144 to prevent the party to hold a rally on the occasion of Nawaz Sharif and Maryium Nawaz’s arrival from London.

Under the Election Act 2017 and in view of the rulings of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Election Commission enjoys sweeping powers to check or undo any administrative action of any caretaker government which is deemed to affect the fairness and impartiality of the elections. However, on the issue of Punjab government’s crackdown and blocking of roads to prevent a political rally, the commission is completely silent.

Speaking in Geo News program, Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath, Punjab’s Caretaker Home Minister Shoukat Javed denied any crackdown was going on, stating any arrests were related to implementation of ECP’s code of conduct to pre-empt violence.

The PML-N President and former Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif has repeatedly assured that the Lahore PML-N show would be peaceful, but the Punjab government resorted to massive crackdown and blocking of roads with containers. On Thursday, Shahbaz Sharif lamented that hundreds of the PML-N workers have been rounded up in, what he said, an illegal swoop in violation of our fundamental rights. He added that the PML-N workers have been incarcerated for 30 days under MPO, which means that they will not be able to take part in elections. “This is naked rigging,” he said.

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