ISLAMABAD - The Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim will summon intelligence sleuths to take them to task in case he finds any kind of meddling or interference in the general elections.

“We will summon them (intelligence agencies) and anybody who tries to adversely affect the electoral process,” the CEC told newsmen on Thursday while responding to a query regarding the overwhelming and uncalled for interference of the secret agencies to manipulate the elections for vested agendas.

“You are complaining, political parties are complaining and people are complaining the same; whosever tries to meddle into the electoral process shall be taken to task whether it’s ISI DG or anybody else, we don’t care.”

He was sharing views following a consultative meeting of the political parties with the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) top brass for discussing proposals on a number of electoral issues, including the dual nationality issue, right of vote to overseas Pakistanis, preparedness for the general elections and ‘discussions’ on the stalled local bodies structure.

Later, talking to this journalist by phone, Justice (r) Fakhruddin confirmed having received many complaints from different political parties regarding highhandedness of the state machinery, particularly the intelligence agencies during the polls and by-polls to obtain the voting results of their choice.

“Many people from political parties have contacted me or seen me in person to discuss this issue. There have also been reports of excessive spending of resources by the state machinery during by-polls. The intelligence agencies have to mend their fences and refrain from resorting to manipulative manoeuvres to rig the elections by making or breaking electoral alliances, horse-trading and all that stuff. We would show zero tolerance towards this practice,” he said.

Earlier, the CEC told the media of having ‘warned’ the political parties to extend maximum participation for making the general elections free and fair or they would be ‘vanished’ otherwise. “I have made it clear to them. Just give your maximum for the elections or you would be vanished. It’s our country and everyone of us has to play his/her part for improving the electoral process. I will ‘beg’ people, including the newly turned eighteen-year-olds to cast their vote in the elections.”

He said that Balochistan deserved ‘special attention’ and increasing the number of the province’s seats in its provincial assembly and the national assembly was considered during Thursday’s meeting. The former judge also confirmed having received objections over a number of electoral matters, particularly the dual-nationality issue, saying the same would be settled through mutual consultation. He said the military would be called in for providing security during elections, if required.

As many as fifteen political parties were invited for the consultative meeting participated by the bigwigs from all the mainstream parties including Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Senator Farhatullah Babar from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain from Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) and senior leaders from other parties.

The deliberations over granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis remained inconclusive; however, both sides, the ECP and the political parties, agreed to continue discussing the matter in the future consultative meetings. Sources in the election commission said that setting up polling stations for overseas Pakistanis abroad required huge expenditure and a lot of time, and it was not implementable in the coming general elections.

“There are conflicting laws in different states and it requires a lot of time and resources to make voting arrangements for overseas Pakistanis which cannot be done in a few months. This could come into effect by the next general elections,” officials shared.

During Thursday’s consultative meeting, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) objected to the inclusion of a separate column in the electoral papers and the proposed requirement for the legislators to submit an affidavit to affirm having Pakistani nationality solely, in accordance with Article 63 (1) (c). The PTI also demanded grant of voting rights to the overseas Pakistanis in the coming general polls instead of deferring the matter to the ‘next’ elections.

The PML-Q also shared reservations over the proposed condition of submitting affidavit regarding the nationality statuses of parliamentarians. The party also opposed the proposal to declare the election results null and void at any women polling station where the voters’ turnout was recorded less than 10 percent. Chaudhry Shujaat argued that the trend of low turnout at the women polling stations was generally prevalent across Pakistan and given the security scenario and linked factors, implementing such a proposal was not a feasible option.

The political parties agreed on doubling the number of existing seats for parliamentarians from Balochistan in the national assembly and Balochistan’s provincial assembly through the introduction and passage of a related bill in the parliament. Balochistan National Party (BNP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (MAP) and Jamhoori Watan Party slammed the role of Frontier Corps (FC) and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in the alleged abductions of the civilians, which, these parties believed, was a major factor for the deteriorated law and order situation. The political parties demanded taking onboard the stakeholders including the Baloch nationalist forces, for the conduct of smooth and transparent elections in Balochistan.

Politicians from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) said that free and fair elections would remain to be a far cry in the region unless foolproof security with mandatory emphasis on counter-military arrangements was provided at the polling stations.

The discussions on holding local bodies’ elections also seemingly headed to nowhere as the ECP passed the buck on provincial governments who had not introduced Local Government Act in the respective provincial assemblies for the conduct of the LB polls. The next consultative meeting would reportedly be held by the end of this year.