ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has summoned PTI chief Imran Khan and PML-N lawmaker Hamza Shahbaz to appear before it on February 14 and explain why they allegedly campaigned for their party candidates during a by-election in violation of the ECP’s code of conduct.
According to the ECP code, the prime minister and cabinet members as well as all MNAs, MPAs and senators are barred from participating in election campaigns of their party candidates.
However, lawmakers from almost all the parties have been openly defying this provision, until a retuning officer (RO) in Jhelum served notices to Imran and Hamza for running election campaigns for their candidates at a by-poll held at NA-63 Jhelum on Aug 31.
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Imran visited the constituency on Aug 24, 2016 while Hamza, who is the son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, visited it two days earlier. Hamza had not responded to the RO’s notices while Imran’s lawyer had taken the plea that the Lahore High Court (LHC) scrapped the provision in May 2015.
The ECP had approached the Supreme Court against the LHC decision which sent the matter back to the LHC. By that time the local government elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (K-P) – that triggered the petition – had completed and the case could not proceed further.
The ECP claims that the LHC’s earlier decision is not in the field anymore and the provision in the code of conduct that bars lawmakers from taking part in election campaigns is intact. The ECP at the time of announcement of schedules for all subsequent polls had been issuing the same code of conduct.
The ECP’s RO in Jhelum was not satisfied with Imran Khan’s plea and sent the matter to the ECP. Similarly, he sent two notices to MNA Hamza Shahbaz but the PML-N lawmaker did not bother to respond. The RO had sent his case to the ECP as well.
Encouraged by their colleague’s audacious stance, the ROs supervising by-polls for the Punjab Assembly seats in Vehari and Taxila also issued similar notices to the PTI chief and later sent their case to the ECP.
This case is likely to clear ambiguity regarding MNAs and MPAs participation in the by-elections campaigns if it is serious in implementing its rules.
ECP serves queries to 85 MNAs
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The relevant wing of the ECP – dealing with audit of statements of accounts and liabilities every lawmaker submits with the commission – has served queries to almost all the 85 MNAs whose statements it has scrutinised. Prominent among them are JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PTI chief Imran Khan and ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
The ECP’s Directorate of Political Finance set up last year, had started the first-ever audit of statements of assets all lawmakers file with the ECP every year. It is scheduled to complete its task by June this year.
However, the two teams working on the project have not been receiving an encouraging response from many MNAs whose statements often show ‘material variations’ when compared with their previous statements.
Quoting examples, an official said in many cases an MNA mentions a property in one year and the next year it goes missing. The lawmakers also add some new asset but do not mention the sources of income through which the property was purchased. One common irregularity in almost all the cases is gross understatement of value of their properties which are worth millions of rupees as per market.
Started from December 1, the ECP is unlikely to be able to get tangible results from the project it started with lots of media hype.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2017.