=> KARACHI, Feb 11: Although every political party co
KARACHI, Feb 11: Although every political party contesting in the upcoming Feb 18 general elections is openly flouting the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the authorities concerned are taking no action against the violators.
Rule 19 and 20 of the ECP’s code of conduct are being violated by parties including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pakistan PeopleÂ’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Awami National Party (ANP). Interestingly enough, however, none of the candidates of any of the contesting parties has lodged a complaint against such flagrant violations with the relevant authorities.
According to Rule 19 of the ECP-prescribed code of conduct, “No person or a political party or a candidate shall hoist or fix party flags on any public property or at any public place, except with the permission in writing from, and on payment of such fee or charges as may be chargeable by the concerned local government or authorities. Wall-chalking as part of an election campaign shall be prohibited in all forms.”
However, the flags of several contesting parties and the election symbols of various independent candidates are visible at a very large number of locations across the city, particularly atop the street-light poles installed on the central medians of the city’s thoroughfares.
The political parties and independent candidates are using graffiti and wall-chalking as a form of campaigning, while the size of many of the billboards and hoardings promoting parties’ or candidates’ election campaigns violates the rules.
Rule 20 of the code of conduct stipulates that: “Section 83a of the Representation of the People Act, 1976, lays down that no person or a political party shall affix posters, hoardings, banners or leaflets/handbills larger than the sizes prescribed by the Election Commission. The Commission has prescribed the sizes: (a) Posters 2 feet x 3 feet (b) Hoardings 3 feet x 5 feet (c) Banners 3 feet x 9 feet (d) Leaflets/Handbills 9 inches x 6 inches.” It further states that “the local authority and the Returning Officer shall be responsible for the effective implementation of the provisions of this section.”
Officials in the city district government Karachi (CDGK) told Dawn that none of the political parties or candidates had so far applied for permission to erect flags, banners or election symbols on public property anywhere in the city.
Under the CDGK-approved bylaws, the smallest size allowable for a roadside billboard is 10×20 feet while the maximum size allowed is 30×90 feet. However, giant hoardings displaying portraits of political personalities such as MQM chief Altaf Hussain, slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and other leaders and candidates bearing their respective messages are to be seen everywhere on the city’s thoroughfares.
Since every contesting party is also itself a violator of the code of conduct, the relevant authorities have not received any complaint regarding the violation of rules by a competing party or candidate.
“The local tax department deals only with the commercial aspects,” said district officer Rehan Khan in this regard. “We do not take action against banners or other signs installed by political or religious parties because this may create a law and order situation.” He added that his department had not received any complaint from any advertiser that a party or candidate had forcibly occupied his billboard.
The Sindh election commissioner, Chaudhry Qamar-uz-Zaman, told Dawn that it was the duty of the returning officers (ROs) and the local authorities (the city government or town administrations) to effectively fulfil all the responsibilities given to them by the ECP. “The ROs and the local authorities are fully authorised to take action against violations in terms of the size of the campaign hoardings and wall-chalking,” he said.
Mr Zaman further stated that the Election Commission could not act at its own. “It is not a lawmaking authority,” he maintained. “We have to work under the law.”
Asked about the inauguration of certain development projects which are being seen as feeding into political campaigns, he said that there was no bar on holding the inauguration ceremony of a development project that had been launched some months ago, ie before the announcement of the election schedule. “There is a ban on initiating new projects or groundbreaking ceremonies,” he explained.