The cold war between the Election Commission of Pakistan and the law ministry took a new turn on Monday when the former ordered immediate printing of nomination papers with amendments proposed by it without waiting for an approval of the president.

An ECP member from Punjab, Justice (retd) Riaz Kiyani, told Dawn that the decision had been taken by a majority to avoid any delay in elections. “The ECP has asserted itself and will keep on doing so in the interest of free and fair elections,” he declared.

He said Article 218(3) of the Constitution had mandated the ECP to take any steps to hold free, fair and transparent elections and guard against corrupt practices. In view of the mandate, the signature of the president allowing the ECP to make amendments in nomination forms had become a mere formality, the member added.

Mr Kiyani pointed out that in its judgment in the Watan Party case, the Supreme Court had observed that the ECP was empowered not only to check illegal actions or corrupt practices but also review all activities related to the elections.

The court held that the commission has powers to take pre-emptive measures to ensure that the spirit of democracy and fairness, justness and honesty of elections is fully observed.

The ECP had sent a draft of amendments for approval of the president through the law ministry last month in order to screen out loan defaulters, tax evaders, loan write-off beneficiaries and convicts from the electoral process. The ministry raised objections and said publicly that the proposed amendments would not be forwarded to the president till its reservations were addressed.

Law Minister Farooq H. Naek met Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim twice to convey his reservations, but failed to reach an understanding with him.

In the last meeting on Thursday, the minister was asked to submit his objections in writing. The ECP received his objections on Friday, rejected them immediately, set the deadline of March 11 for approval of the proposed amendments and said it would go for printing of the old version of nomination form if amendments were not approved by then.

But hours after expiry of the deadline on Monday, the commission decided to order printing of nomination forms with the proposed amendments.

Now the candidates will have to submit their income and agricultural tax returns of the past three years, details of foreign trips undertaken by them during the period, details of expenditure of children studying abroad and a declaration of not having or applied for a foreign citizenship.

They will also have to provide details of their income and expenditure and a list of spouse and dependants.

An ECP official told Dawn that a candidate could be disqualified at any stage on production of concrete evidence.

Meanwhile, Law Minister Farooq Naek told reporters that under Section 107 of the People’s Representation Act, 1976, only the president could decide the fate of any amendment proposed by the ECP.

He said some unnecessary amendments had been proposed which had nothing to do with qualification and disqualification clauses under the Constitution.

The minister, however, said the government had faith in the ECP.

He said the election schedule would be announced on March 20 or 21 and the polling will take place 50 days after that.

The Governor’s rule in Balochistan should be lifted so that leaders of the house and the opposition could decide about the caretaker set-up in the province, Mr Naek added.

Senator Zafar Ali Shah of the PML-N said under Article 218 of the Constitution, the ECP was solely responsible for the conduct of free and fair elections. It would have been better had the commission got the president’s approval as provided under Section 107 of the People’s Representation Act.

The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency has welcomed the ECP’s directive for printing of the nomination forms without waiting for the approval of the president.

“This is an important step towards the ECP exercising its independence and powers conferred upon it by the Constitution,” it said in a statement. Pildat said even though it did not entirely agree with all the changes in the nomination paper, it respects the ECP’s right to exercise its powers to retain and carry the changes made.- Dawn.com