ISLAMABAD - The chief election commissioner has summoned an all important meeting of the Election Commission of Pakistan on the coming Thursday to decide on involving Rangers and the regular army troops during voters’ verification drive as well as discussing other electoral issues.

The CEC Justice (Retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim informed this journalist about the latest development while sharing views on a number of electoral issues, when contacted, on Saturday.

“The proposed deployment of the Rangers and military troops has lately been a subject of discussion. We have decided to make a final decision on it and we’re going to meet in Islamabad,” he said, adding that the two-day meeting would continue till the coming Friday.

The CEC clarified that the Supreme Court had not ordered but suggested to the ECP, in a recent ruling, regarding the involvement of military or paramilitary troops during voters’ verification in Karachi. “The SC ordered for the delimitation of constituencies in Karachi and voters’ verification is essential for this purpose. The apex court has suggested that the ECP may seek assistance from the army and paramilitary troops such as rangers during the verification drive considering the security situation in Karachi. The court has left it to the ECP discretion to make a decision in this regard,” the former SC judge said.

Regarding opposition from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) against constituencies’ delimitation in Karachi, Justice (Retd) Fakhruddin said all the parties except MQM support the delimitation process. “The political parties have agreed to delimiting constituencies in Karachi and they strongly support the SC decision. I personally think, we have to go by a consensual approach for free and fair elections. We will address the MQM’s concerns by assuring that delimiting constituencies is not aimed at marginalizing any party’s vote bank but it is necessary for improving law and order in Karachi that is essentially required for free and fair polls we all want. Consensus is the key to bridging differences and solving problems.”

Regarding complaints from certain political parties particularly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) about anomalies in the new voter lists, the CEC said, “We have formulated a very easy way for every voter to get his vote registered at the present or permanent postal address. The anomalies in this regard have been removed to a large extent and the remaining inaccuracies are being removed. Everybody can just send a text message to 8300 and get details about his vote registration. It is as transparent and easy as that. What’s the issue? Why make fuss of it? Excluding Karachi where delimitation would be given a go ahead after Thursday meeting, the voter lists in the remaining areas are accurate. I don’t understand why questions are being raised about the voter lists when you just have to send a text and get your details. I guess, blame game has really been a practice here. Unfortunately, it has become part and parcel of our politics.” 

One of the real challenges for the generals elections, Justice (r) Ebrahim said, is law and order situation across the country. “It’s our foremost priority to tackle the security challenges. The political parties have to show unity and the general public, international community, independent observers, politicians, military, civil society, media, government and other cross sections of society have to stand together to defeat the menace of terrorism.   We have to keep a very watchful eye,” he said hinting at involving the military for maintaining law and order during general polls. “Everything would be decided with mutual agreement following consultation with the political parties.”

To a question on the appointment of District Returning Officers (DROs) and Returning Officers (ROs) as judicial officers in general polls, the CEC said that the judicial committee has approved for assigning the sessions judges the responsibility of monitoring the general elections but the exact number and required details were not available as yet. The detailed break-up would be made available in the coming days, he said. In consequence of a recent SC ruling on Karachi unrest, the ECP has announced launching voters verification drive in Karachi for the delimitation of constituencies. With exception to the MQM, all the other political parties strongly support delimitation process. Fearing major setback to its vote bank, the MQM labels the delimitation drive as a bid to ‘push us to wall’ 

As many as 20 National Assembly and 42 Sindh Assembly constituencies of Karachi are to be delimited following the launch of voters verification, once the modalities are finalised in the ECP’s coming meeting.