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‘Set such institutions afire’: Azam Swati accuses ECP of taking bribes

Heated debate during Senate committee meeting on EVMs. (Source: Dawn)

ISLAMABAD: Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati on Friday accused the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of taking bribes and rigging polls, saying that such institutions should be “set on fire”.

He made these remarks during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs chaired by Senator Taj Haider to discuss proposed amendments to the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2021.

The federal minister said the ECP was making fun of the government, adding the commission was not entitled to “ruin” democracy in the country. He added that such institutions conduct all elections through rigging and should be burned down.

Following his remarks, officials of the Election Commission walked out of the meeting. The Opposition senators said that Swati cannot accuse a constitutional body of taking bribes, and asked the senator to provide proof to back his claim.

‘ECP not above the law’

During today’s meeting, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said that the election commission was not above the law and had to work within its ambit.

Responding to the ECP’s reservations, Awan questioned the commission for delaying work on introducing EVMs. “Why do we feel threatened by the technology?” he asked. He said the government had also written a letter to the commission about the budget and security of EVMs, but didn’t receive a response.

Senator Taj Haider stressed the need to listen to the ECP’s objections regarding the proposed amendments to the election law. Azam Swati protested against Haider, accusing him of not allowing Senator Samina Mumtaz to cast her vote.  

“You are not taking our lawmaker online so that she can cast her vote,” he said. “We are walking out in protest,” he added, and representatives of the government left the meeting.  

Afterwards, the committee — in the absence of the members of the treasury benches — rejected the proposed amendments concerning voting rights for overseas Pakistanis, use of EVMs in the next general elections and holding Senate polls through the open ballot.

EVMs cannot stop rigging, says ECP

On Friday, the Election Commission of Pakistan submitted a four-page letter to Taj Haider, the chairman of the senate’s standing committee on parliamentary affairs, expressing its reservations regarding the proposed election amendment bills.

The ECP stated that it endorses the introduction of new technologies in the electoral process but has concerns about the process being pushed in “haste”.

“The Commission, while in favor of technology, believes that the technology to be used must be secured and sufficiently tested,” the letter argued, adding that the EVM should be subject to massive testing by procuring the machine on a small scale for a pilot project first.

“EVMs will not counter all types of frauds and open up the possibility of other more sophisticated types of fraud and manipulation of software and hardware,” the letter added.