EC allows president to take part in by-poll campaigns
Iftikhar A. Khan
ISLAMABAD: In a surprising move, the Election Commission of Pakistan issued a notification on Thursday allowing President Asif Ali Zardari and governors of four provinces to take part in election campaigns for at least the remaining by-elections.
The president and the governors have been removed from the list of public office holders barred from taking part in election campaigns, according to the notification issued ahead of by-election for a provincial assembly seat in Charsadda. The election is scheduled for Dec 15. The move is a clear deviation from the draft code of conduct prepared by the ECP for the coming general election.
Although the prime minister, chief ministers and members of cabinets, including advisers, have been barred from visiting constituencies where by-elections are being held, it is clear that the restriction was not meant for the president and governors as mentioned in the draft code of conduct for the 2013 general election.
“After the issuance of schedule of an election, the prime minister, chief minister, federal ministers, advisers to the president and the prime minister, provincial ministers and advisers to chief ministers will neither visit the area of any constituency where an election is being held nor shall they openly or in secret give any subscription or donation or to make promise of giving such subscription or donation to any institution of a constituency, nor shall inaugurate, commit to undertake or announce any development project therein for the advancement of the campaign of a candidate of his choice and thereby influence results of that election,” the notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn, said.
A senior ECP official said the proposed bar on the president from taking part in election campaigns was part of the ‘yet to be finalised’ code of conduct.
He said a Senate special committee on election issues had decided to hold a session on the code of conduct and it was expected to be finalised at a joint meeting of the committee and the commission.
“That is why offices of the president and governors have not been mentioned in the notification,” he said.
A PML-N Senator and constitutional expert, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, said that omission of offices of the president and governors from the list was a matter of concern.
Mr Shah, who also happens to be a member of the Senate special committee on election issues, said the president and governors had been barred by law from taking part in election campaigns and it should have been mentioned clearly in the notification for the knowledge of common man.
“They are in government service and cannot even take part in politics after their retirement for two years. How can these offices be allowed to influence any by-election,” he said.
The notification warns that any of these public office holders, if found having misused their official positions to influence the result of an election whatsoever, may lead to legal action involving contempt proceedings.
It says that executive authorities in the federation and provinces shall neither use state resources anywhere in the country for unfair advantage of a particular candidate or a political party nor exercise undue influence affecting the interest of a candidate or party for participating in any election.
If any person in the service of the country misuses his official position in any manner calculated to influence the result of an election, he may be tried by a sessions court as contemplated under Section 95 of the People’s Representation Act, 1976, and if found guilty of the offence, may be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or both under Section 92 of the Act.
Through another notification, the contesting candidates have been told not to exceed the limit of election expenses set at Rs1 million. Each contesting candidate shall open an account with a scheduled bank on or before Dec 14, and deposit an amount not exceeding Rs1 million to meet election expenses.