ISLAMABAD – The chief election commissioner is smelling a rat in the ruling elites’ intentions as the tussle between the federal government and electoral body over the amendments in nomination papers lingers on.

The commission awaits the government’s response on the matter. The ECP officials see personal interests of certain elements in the ruling elites as an instrumental factor for their opposition to amendments in the general polls’ nominations papers - an apparent bid to conceal their wealth details.

The commission sources believe, the actual bone of contention is the particular amendment in the nomination papers seeking the tax and wealth details of the general polls’ contestants’ family members.  “That’s the real issue, we believe. Majority of political bigwigs has its assets - moveable and immovable properties - registered in the names of their family members. The politicians would never want that these kind of details come under scrutiny,” officials said, adding the objections over other amendments did not matter “as much as this particular one did,” for the government gurus.  

Talking to TheNation, Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim termed the government’s attitude towards the ECP-made amendments in the nomination papers as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘regrettable.’ “There might be some people who are out to save their skin by opposing the amendments. This is really unfortunate and regrettable. If the candidates’ wealth details are scrutinised in practical terms, we would be able to get hold of tax evaders and loan defaulters.”

When asked, the CEC spoke in agreement with the perception that certain ruling elites were opposing amendments in a bid to conceal their wealth details. “This is the case, I guess. It’s true that politicians in significant number have their assets officially belonging to their offspring, siblings, spouses or kith and kin. They are probably trying to get off the hook by doing so (opposing the amendments).” 

The ECP had made 15 amendments in the candidates’ nomination papers for general polls. These amendments, which require the approval of the president in order to be incorporated in the nomination papers to be used in the general elections, seek the tax and wealth details of the candidates, the details of their tax returns of the last three years, the wealth details of their family members, the tax return details of the family members of the last three years, details about the registration of criminal cases (if any) against the candidates in the last six months and a host of other queries regarding the performance of legislators during their parliamentary terms, details of their funding to their respective political parties as well as details of funds donated to the charity by the candidates (if any).

The Ministry of Law and Justice objected to the amendments coupled with the Law Minister Farooq H Naek’s public opposition to the ECP’s initiative. This prompted the commission to give a three-day deadline to the government on Friday, to have the amended draft of the nomination papers approved by the president by March 11. Otherwise, the commission said, it would have the un-amended version of the nomination papers printed. 

The deadlock between both the sides have brought them on a standstill since then.

“There has been complete silence since yesterday (Friday),” said a senior official at the Election Commission of Pakistan referring to the letter sent by the ECP to the Ministry of Law and Justice to convey the commission’s rejection of the ministry’s objections on amendments in the nomination papers.

The Secretary ECP Ishtiak Ahmed Khan on Friday evening had sent the said letter addressed to the Secretary Law Yasmin Abbasi. “There has been no correspondence since then,” the official said. A law ministry representative, when approached, expressed ignorance if any development on the ECP-law ministry row over the nomination papers issue had taken place on Saturday. “Today is a weekly holiday. I’m not aware of any progress on this count.

I think, the matter would be looked into on Monday,” he said.