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Can we craft a new electoral system in Pakistan?

A colleague of mine wrote this article which i thought was very timely. While a big uproar has engulfed the country on unfair elections of 2013 and the PTI supporters are gearing for a long March, some people are taking steps to come up with proposals or at least set up a process to review the election mechanism. The initiative of the Parliament to set up a committee to come up with recommendations of reforms is a step forward.

Can we craft a new electoral system   by Zafarullah Khan

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

With the formation of a 33-member Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms (PCER) the ball has finally arrived in the political-and-parliamentary court.

Electoral reforms primarily belongs to the political domain; in the past it tried to plug some holes via computerised electoral lists based on ‘one CNIC-one vote’, a full time Election Commission appointed through parliamentary scrutiny and insurance for continuity through a neutral caretaker setup. Judicial activism also tried to check the use and abuse of money, media and muscle.

These piecemeal transplants over an archaic electoral system based on outdated statutes didn’t yield enough dividends, yet the country witnessed its first ever civilian to civilian transition and transfer of power. The slightly improved system also demonstrated its capacity to expose ‘electoral thieves’ and subsequently generated demands for electoral reforms in public and political spheres.

Effective democratic architecture is founded on undisputed electoral legitimacy determined through clean votes, therefore responding to rising political temperatures and calls for audit of Election-2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wrote a letter to the speaker of the National Assembly on June 10, 2014 to constitute a parliamentary committee to address the issue.

According to the motion adopted on June 19, 2014 in the National Assembly the PCER is mandated to evaluate shortcomings of previous elections and make recommendations for electoral reforms for free, fair and transparent elections within three months from the date of its notification. Meaning thereby, the PCER has to work day and night for 92 days to complete its task of preparing comprehensive reforms package or suggestions to completely overhaul the system by October 25, 2014.

The odd thing is that mere constitution of the committee consumed 45 days. Similar lacklustre attitude will be fatal during the agreed short life of the PECR. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which emerged as the harbinger of electoral reforms, has already cautioned that the PCER shall not be used as a ‘delaying tactic’ to defuse their struggle – which otherwise is gaining momentum. To alleviate fears a parliamentary pledge has been made that the timeframe given to the committee will not be extended at any cost.

The scope of work of the PCER includes, but is not limited to, making recommendations to ensure free, fair and transparent elections, adoption of the latest technology, proposing necessary legislation or constitutional amendments, if required. One expects that with this explicit mandate the PCER will opt for out-of-the-box solutions and instead of relying on fixing the old system here and there, it will come up with a modern electoral system that will be compatible with the technological possibilities of electronic-voting.

Perhaps it is time to shift from manual to modern technological e-voting, e-voter registration plus verification, e-counting and swift electoral grievance redress mechanisms in Pakistan. In this way, with the change of electoral software, the hardware of country’s electoral machinery – more specifically the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) – would require a different kind of leadership and human resources to internalize reforms and vanguard nation’s political wealth. In the past despite efforts the ECP couldn’t reclaim its original soul and spirit because military regimes used it as an instrument to earn legitimacy for usurpers through fraudulent referendums in 1984 and 2002.

One expects that the committee will also dedicate its energies to democratise qualification and disqualification criteria enlisted in Article 62 and 63. The minimum will be to delete dictatorial clause inserted during General Zia’s regime as they have confused the political narrative in the country. The committee shall also revisit the Political Party Order-2002 as it was promulgated by yet another military regime and falls short on fixing any spending limit on parties and a proper audit of parties’ financial statements. The law is totally silent about the formation of election alliances and this lacuna has been exploited well by banned outfits that contested previous election.

This politics-led indigenous initiative for reforms must take into account the country’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and many other pledges that assert citizens’ right to be governed democratically and be able to participate and run for an elected office.

There is a significant body of knowledge on what ails Pakistan’s electoral system. The list of problems is long – ranging from ghost polling stations to troubles in trustworthy counting and record keeping. The Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Law has done lot of homework. The Special Committee on Election Issues in the Senate also held public hearing and series of consultative meetings. The PCER shall also hold public hearings or at least solicit citizen’s suggestions for electoral reforms. In this regard political parties are the main stakeholders and those who are currently out of parliament and continue to create chaos shall also be consulted to make this process more inclusive. Over the years international donors have also spent millions of dollars to fix the fractured electoral system.

Dissection of the composition of the PCER reveals that out of 18 political parties with representation in the National Assembly only three single legislator parties – the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, the National Party of Dr Malik Baloch and tthe All Pakistan Muslim League of General Musharraf – have been denied berth in the committee comprising 16 parties and independents from Fata.

The single-senator National Party has also been ignored by the Senate, which contributed 11 members to the PCER. The committee includes nine legislators who had been members of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms that cobbled the 18th Amendment. There are four women legislators from the lower house but there is no representation of religious minorities. The speaker is empowered to replace any member of the committee on the request of the parliamentary party leader concerned. The leading parties must consider inclusion of those who have been excluded in the first notification.

Nevertheless a window of opportunity has been created to reform the country’s electoral system to make it more inclusive and transparent. This moment must be seized because a trustworthy electoral system along with an independent judiciary and free media will be the key to a better democratic future. This will be happening amid a climate of political confusions and chaos characterised by calls for marches and so-called revolution. Only time will tell whether the political class will be able to ward off any future coup de grace against the fragile and transitory democracy or complicate the matter further.

The writer is an Islamabad-based civic educator/researcher with an interest in federalism and democratic development.

 

 


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Five-year quick analysis of Pakistan’s Situation & Happy 2014

TEN THINGS PAKISTANIS SHOULD BE PROUD OF OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS

  1. Devolution of powers and legislative authority given to the Provinces. Re-distribution of finances, NFC award and strengthening of a Federal structure.
  2. Taking off 58 2B and retuning powers of the Prime Minister from the President
  3. Completion of five year govt & a smooth and respectful transition to the next civilian government, without any intervention of the armed forces.
  4. Passage of pro-women legislation (7 laws between 2010 to 2013 after a gap of 50 years). Teaming up of civil society with the Parliament and a clear political active role  of women parliamentarians.
  5. Pakistani nation never voted more than 10% for the religious right.
  6. Active engagement of Pakistani public in elections in the face of violence and death.
  7. Willingness and initiation of peace talks with neighbours  (India).
  8. The beginning of a transition from a Military to Civilian Rule
  9. (eg. military budget-lines discussed in the parliament, court cases on ex ISI head and Chief of Army Staff, no overt interference by military since 2008).
  10. Strengthening of Election Commission and Council of Common Interests
  11. Continous progressive and democratic movement with brave people who would sacrifice anything for the country and the wellbeing of their people.

TEN THINGS PAKISTANIS SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT 

  1. Our pattern of self bashing and disrespecting ourselves as a nation.
  2. Bashing the politicians only- increasing risk of instability and not standing behind our democratically elected governments.
  3. Lack of joint strategy of all stakeholders on militancy – including citizens themselves
  4. Lack of recognizing and unintentionally participating in the narrative of pro-militancy that is seeping into every sector. (trying to delegitimize Malala, organizations that work for progressive change shift focus on drones vs Taliban attacks, increasing moral bashing, who is a good Muslim and who is not. giving every debate a colour of religion.
  5. Continuous isolation in the international scenario which leads to suicidal tendency. very egocentric view of issues. not understanding the vulnerability of our country
  6. Lack of accountability for bureaucracy
  7. Lack of joint front of Pakistanis internally and diaspora, with a joint strategy of putting Pakistan-first and influencing the international dynamics.
  8. People get swayed by ‘selective justice’ which doesn’t always build the institution of justice. Lack of accountability of justice system, especially at the lower and mid level, which should be the backbone of the system
  9. People have learnt to criticize more and active participation less. Capacity of a country is collective. Lack of teaming up of citizens with the government or within themselves to come up with solutions and lobby for them. We need a shift from complaining to engagement mode.
  10. People become gullible to little information & propaganda by media or agencies. Transparency of how much money is coming from countries like USA for the military, government budget support, NGOs etc. (‘amriki agent’, or ‘anti islamic’ have become the most common beating sticks for whoever tries to talk sense).

HAPPY 2014!


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Mehergarh’s Training for grooming future politicians in Pakistan

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I had a euphoric feeling after the course for those wanting to join active politics concluded at Mehergarh Center near Isalamabad, Pakistan.

sharing an article from Friday Times, which describes the experience well. http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20130906&page=24

Training ground

“Soon after partition the demonization of politicians started and the state was made into a garrison state” said Raza Rabbani, addressing a group of aspiring politicians. Mehergarh, a human rights center, had arranged a five-day residential training for young leaders who want to get into active politics.

The participants were from Nagarparker, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Omerkot, Mach, Quetta, Turbat, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnager, Faisalabad, Mandi Bahauddin, Lahore, Peshawar, Lower Dir, Mardan, Charsadda and Gilgit Baltistan. These were men and women who had either won local bodies elections or stood for a seat in the provincial elections, but lost’ people who believe in democracy and are determined to transform politics into an issue-based process. They aim to create a space for the lower middle class and the poor in the larger mainstream.

“If I had not arranged chairs in political gatherings I would not have got the insights I did as a politician”

Addressing a young participant’s concern about party workers not getting party tickets and outsiders parachuting into higher positions, he said, “If I had not arranged chairs in political gatherings and spent time as a worker I would not have got the insights I did as a politician…those who parachute in, do crash when the parachute gets punctured! The attributes to aspire for as a politician are hard work, commitment and honesty”. The participants were thrilled to talk to an admired senior politician. Those from Balochistan thanked Raza Rabbani profusely for standing up for the smaller provinces.

Young leaders were also grateful to talk to other politicians during the course of the training. Daniyal Aziz from PML N has been an inspiration for those who had run in the past for local bodies and had been a apart of the movement for restoration of the third tier of Government. Daniyal gave a comprehensive session on how to fuse the desires of the public with strategic issues that might not be so popular, in one campaign. He gave practical tips on keeping connected to the grassroots, staying away from thana systems of getting votes and organizing villages for their own development.

On the one hand, the training covered the democratic system of Pakistan and concepts of a fair electoral system, on the other, it provided practical sessions on political campaigning, media strategy, fund raising and alliance-building.

Asad Omer from PTI, an elected representative from Islamabad in the National Assembly, also conducted a session. He is new to mainstream politics and so chose to elaborate upon the decision to choose politics for contributing to social change in Pakistan. He also focused on being committed to facing all kinds of challenges since most civil society representatives are not aware of the culture in the political arena.

An array of resource-persons came in to contribute to this effort of transformation. Mohammad Mushtaq, DS Legislation from the National Assembly gave them a briefing on reserved seats for women and legislative procedures. He strongly condemned the stereotypes of politicians, emphasizing that the myth that MNAs get a lot of money from the State is not true. Their salaries are low and facilities few.

We have to respect our civilian government in order to team up and transform our systems

One of the participants who stood in the elections this year said he only got a couple of thousand votes but now realized that he had not planned his campaign for a win. Neither did he actually believe that he would win. The training also included making introductary speeches where participants convinced their fellows to vote for them and got feedback on whether they were convincing in terms of agenda, slogans and reasons for running. This created a lot of enthusiasm, as for many believing in themselves was the first challenge.

The training was facilitated by Dr Fouzia Saeed, who has been working closely with parliamentarians in Pakistan and has been studying the US congress for the last one year. Mehergarh has been engaged in the capacity building of youth leaders since 2005. It has organized leadership trainings for women and community leaders, and believes in strengthening democratic institutions. It has consistently worked on propagating pluralism to create a space in our society where a democratic culture can be nurtured. Mehergarh was also the secretariat of AASHA, the alliance against sexual harassment, where it played a key role in lobbying for anti sexual harassment legislation.

“In the time where everyone in the electronic media and in the society bashes politicians, Mehergarh is determined to bring respect back to the elected representatives. We have to respect our civilian elected government, our parliamentarians and our democratic institutions, to be able to team up and transform our systems”, said Maliha Husain, Executive Director and main organizer of the training at Mehergarh Center.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20130906&page=24#sthash.4xhl5ZDn.dpuf


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TEN DEMANDS ON THE INDEPENDENCE DAY

Pakistan-Flag-Wallpapers-1920x1200

Another independence day!

With hope for the future I want to make ten demands from our government. The situation keeps getting more complex and the priorities get more urgent. This year it has to focus on security. The demand of the people on this independence day has to be for our lives to be protected. How basic can one get. The killings every day need to be stopped for us to think about anything else for the country. Here are my ten demands for our Government on 14th of August 2013.

1)A seriousness among all the political parties to solve the problem of militancy. ‘How’ is a later question, we the people are not sure if all the parties are serious about dealing with it. All players are not on board yet, so please lead the way!

2) A road map to bring the Baloch separatists into dialogue and move towards a peaceful resolution for their demands.

3) An assurance to the provinces that the autonomy given to them after 65 years under 18th amendment is not something that will be taken away and will not be tampered with again. The Federal government should restrain itself from interfering with the provincial authorities and let them develop.

4) At least a meaningful trade pact with India moving our relations in a positive direction, and yes regardless of the tricks both the militaries would do to prevent this from happening.

5) Get our local bodies up and running. Unfortunately the proposed legislation is diluting its functions, authorities, composition and the women’s role, but I do want the elections so that I can call our Government complete. I do not consider it complete without the third tier.

On other domestic issues:

6) Bijli please!!!

7) It would help a lot if we can modernize our flood warning systems and make some long term plans rather than suffering every year with floods.

8) Pay attention to Balochistan. I think a sound provincial govt. is necessary and not think that a token Government would do, with real powers continue to be with Military, Interior and intelligence agencies.

9) I would like to see a continued attention on women’s issues. The focus needs to be on implementation of policies and legislation and making their lives safe and livable!

10) Appointment of heads of institutions on somewhat merit!!! No more retired Military and retired Judiciary people. No more dominance of these institutions through the ‘retired forces’.

My magic number of keeping it to ten demands on this independence day is over but can we also please get our YOUTUBE back… please….. the pattern of shooting ourselves in our foot has to change…pleeease!!!


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Senator Raza Rabbani, the most suitable candidate for the President of Pakistan

Senator Raza Rabbani is one of the Presidential nominee in Pakistan. Three other political parties have expressed support for him. Negotiations are going on for other opposition parties to take him as a consensus opposition candidate for the position. Our request to PML N, the ruling party, was to let go of their candidate and accept him as a consensus candidate as he commands respect from every party and every province. He also is a symbol in the country for Federalism and democracy. PML N has announced their candidate, Mamnoon Husain, who is a party loyalist but hardly has any credentials. All the players are very active and the game is changing every minute.
The electoral collage for the president includes all the provincial assemblies, National assembly and the Senate which comes to 706 votes. Although it is the prerogative of the ruling party to make their choice just like PPP did at every occasion however a common desire is that they be generous and consider a candidate like Raza Rabbani as a consensus candidate.
The elections originally scheduled to be held on the 6th has now been moved to the 30th of July by the supreme court on the request of PML N. the other parties are upset about this one sided change leaving hardly any time for them to lobby. Lets see how things unfold in the coming days. It is an opportunity for Pakistan to have a president who can make all the provinces comfortable and can guard the provincial autonomy and democratic institutions of the country.

Senator Raza Rabbani. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: 

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – the largest opposition party in the National Assembly – has refused to support the government’s nominee for the office of president. Instead, the party asked the ruling Pakistan Muslim League to support Senator Raza Rabbani for the top slot.

On the other hand, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the second largest opposition party in the National Assembly after the PPP, and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) also unveiled their candidates for the presidential election scheduled for August 6.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah told The Express Tribune by phone from Karachi that Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif contacted him on Friday to seek the PPP’s support for the government’s candidate.

“I told Khawaja Sahib that the PPP has nominated Raza Rabbani for the slot and believes he is more suitable than anyone else … Instead I suggested the PML-N support Rabbani if they want a consensus candidate for the office of president,” he said. He added that the PPP would also approach other opposition parties to garner support for Rabbani.

After PML-N, the PPP has the largest numerical strength in the lower of Parliament. In addition to that, the party also holds majority in the Senate and Sindh Assembly, which are part of the Electoral College for the presidential election.

Despite this, the PPP cannot guarantee success for its candidate without the support of other opposition parties, since it is heavily outnumbered by the PML-N in both the National and Punjab assemblies.

I tole Khawaja Sahib that the PPP has nominated Raza Rabbani for the slot and believes he is more suitable than anyone else : leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah

Meanwhile, the PTI has named Justice (rtd) Wajiuddin Siddiqui as its candidate for the president. Justice Siddiqui collected his nomination papers on Friday. The party said in a statement on Saturday that the decision was taken by its senior leadership after thorough consultations. It stated that the leadership of both the PML-N and PPP had approached the party to support a joint candidate.

In particular, it mentioned that opposition leader Khursheed Shah met PTI deputy parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi and suggested the parties could field a candidate not affiliated with any political party. However, the PTI leaders had consensus on fielding their own candidate.

Separately, PML-Q has named Balochistan-based Senator Saeedul Hassan Mandokhail as its candidate for the presidency.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.


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Accountability of Musharraf!!!

The government intends to charge Musharraf for treason. He has been back in the country for a while. Attempts to put him in prison, under house arrest and book him under several cases has shown that the Government strategy is unclear or what the Parliament wants to do. There is a case of murder of Sardar Bugti and one of Benazir’s murder that have been put on him. It almost sounds as if the Govt. or the Parliament is not confident that the charges of treason will get him. As if some outside power like Saudi Arabia will intervene or perhaps the inside power of the military would intervene and therefore in order to get the guy there should be a pile of cases. At times this is done when the goal requires tough negotiation. Pile up several cases and that will help in first scaring the person and then better negotiation and deals. Pakistan does not need any more deals, it needs justice and clear cut stop to any more military take overs.

The cases of Benazir’s murder and Bugti’s murder are clearly political charges. Just like Zufiqar ali Bhutto was charged with a murder in a political case and Nawaz Sharif was charged by a murder attempt by Musharaf , as a political tactic.  Our Government should have the strength and full backing of the nation to charge a dictator with treason for taking over the country, throwing away the constitution and unconstitutional rule for eleven years.  A certain group of people still like Musharaf in Pakistan. They need to think that we are not talking about ‘rehamdil’ or ‘be-reham badshah’. We are against military ‘badshahat’. This nation has to put an end to this cancer. A strong precedent of punishing a military dictator has to be made. We bow our necks with shame thinking this nation tolerated 4 Military coups and could not even punish a single military dictator. Our people need to realize that this door has to be shut for ever. Accountability is the only way we can seal the door shut. Our judiciary has to wash off the sins of the past and stand strong to carry on the justice and accountability.

As a nation we should be clear that it is not about getting the man we need to get by this case or that, but it is the shameful tradition of military take overs that we need to stop by setting precedent of accountability and justice. So lets not muddle the waters by other cases and lets not take any international or internal pressures. Sit tight with strong hearts and remember that this would be a major step towards strengthening of a civilian rule.

We also need to remember that we still have a tall agenda of not just stopping the  military coups but bring a healthy power balance between military and civilians. That process was started by some initiatives in the last Government. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security asked military to put all the  international  agreements on the table, the Govt. discussed  a few budget lines of the military expenditure with the national budget and the courts declared enough evidence for guilt in a case of the head of  intelligence and a retired military general. These are all precedents that will take the nation in the right direction. The restraint shown by Gen Kiani can also be seen as an indicator that the military at least under his leadership was willing to stay away from the overt power display. Accountability for overthrowing an elected government is the first major step and then we have to take care of several other aspects for transforming civil military relationships.

http://www.thenews.com.pk/article-106588-Government-to-try-Musharraf-for-high-treason:-PM

 


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RETURN OF THE NOTORIOUS PROFESSOR TO PUNJAB UNIVERSITY: Appeal to CM Punjab to take action

Iftikhar Baloch, who had set up a bedroom right next to his office in the Geology Dept of Punjab University, was terminated for gross misconduct in 2011.  To everyone’s surprise, the University has received instructions to reinstated him in his job on June 12th, 2013.  The Interim Governor, Syed Ahmad Mahmud, used a window of opportunity to push his friend back into the University.  Earlier, Mahmud’s cousin, former PM, Yusuf Raza Gillani, made several attempts to get him reinstated, but the PM’s safarish attempt was blocked when the PM’s own National Implementation Watch Committee (for the anti sexual harassment laws) supported the strong stand taken by the Punjab University officials .  However, the Interim Governor is related to Yusuf Raza Gillani and the power of Iftikhar Baloch’s support network remains strong .

In 2010, after years of female students  filing complaints with the University officials, finally one brave PhD student  reported him to the police after an attempted rape.

The powerful professor had been bragging for years that no one could touch him because he was a class fellow of the PM Yusuf Raza Gillani. He was quite right because no complaint about him ever succeeded. Even after the sexual harassment laws were passed, the police initially quashed Shabeena’s formal complaint. Nevertheless, Shabeena  persistently pursued the issue. She and her husband sold their modest car and whatever they could to pursue the case.

In November 2010, CM Shahbaz Sharif, launched a special inquiry into the matter as soon as it had come to his attention. Senior Police officers and other officials conducted an extensive inquiry on the campus, interviewing many  students and faculty in a responsible manner. This additional information was added to the FIR that had been finally registered on 1st November 2010 (FIR No 450/10) with charges of section 376, 506, 511 PPC against the professor.

In compliance with the newly passed anti-sexual harassment law, the Punjab University VC and other senior officials conducted their own inquiry. Both thorough inquiries found the Professor at fault.  The University issued a termination notice on 8th December 2010 on the basis of recommendations of the inquiry committee . Charges proven after the inquiry included “allegation of molestation/ sexual harassment against prof. Dr Iftikhar Husain Baloch stands proven…Forgery is proven…Presence of sexual toys / sexual gadgets is proven. The civil society and the media hailed the brave and responsible decision of the Punjab Government.

Immediately, Iftikhar Baloch initiated a war against the University. In Lahore, the, then, Punjab Governor, Latif Khosa, put pressure on the University to take the professor back. In Islamabad, a Parliamentary Committee on Privileges of Government Employees, created an excuse to intervene in the case, called the VC of Punjab University to a hearing, humiliated him and issued written instructions that Baloch should be re-instated.  Civil society was outraged by this naked attempt at using the Parliament to override a valid University decision.  Fortunately, the University refused to back down in the face of this high handedness.  On the personal side,  family members of senior officials of the Punjab University and the complainants were threatened. Still, the University stood behind its decision.

Finally,  two year later, Baloch has been able to secure some support. A woman judge on the Lahore High Court was found who would issue a ruling that the Governor had the authority to make a final decision in this matter. The Governor had his office quickly compile the necessary paperwork and signed the orders to reinstate him. Who is not familiar with ‘khatta’, the paperwork done to cover tracks and to hide sins.

Baloch was terminated based on findings of both the police and the University inquiries.  These findings have not been overturned, only his termination has been quashed.  No such pervert should have a place in a Pakistani educational institute. Whatever ‘special inquiry’ has been undertaken to return Iftikhar Baloch to his post must be immediately reviewed.  Why the LHC had to give the final authority to overturn the legal University decision to the Governor also needs to be assessed.  The Punjab CM said in a cabinet meeting today that “the culture of nepotism, corruption and favouritism needed to end, the rule of law must prevail.”   We need to see the CM take charge of this case and show his support for a dignified environment in the educational institutions.