The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), largely considered toothless in the past, may be baring a new set of sharp dentures.
The commission on Wednesday issued an amended code of conduct for election campaigns, for an interim period, prescribing punishments that could ultimately lead to disqualification of violators.
The new code of conduct, formulated on the directives of a Supreme Court decision earlier this month, will be a test case for the ECP in the by-polls in NA-151, vacated due to the disqualification of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Polling for the seat will be held on July 19.
The apex court, in its June 8 verdict on a petition against widespread corruption in the electioneering process, had empowered the ECP to enact its own rules and ensure implementation of existing laws.
According to the ECP officials, the code of conduct will serve for the interim period, for all subsequent by-polls, till a final code is prepared for the general elections. The ECP is planning to hold a consultative meeting with political parties by mid-July in this regard.
Maximum spending limit
Taking cue from its Indian counterpart, the ECP has directed all contesting candidates to open a bank account, with a maximum credit limit of Rs1.5 million, to be used for electioneering. Candidates would not be allowed to use money through any other source. For NA-151 elections, the candidates would have to open this account by June 29th.
The candidates would have to keep a record of their election expenses on a daily basis and submit details to the returning officer, with documentary proof, every week till the end of the election campaign.
The maximum limit of expenses up to Rs1.5 million was already prescribed in the ECP rules but there was no mechanism to monitor it. Nor were there any specified punishments for violators, except a token fine.
The ECP will now depute a three-member team – one of whom shall be a professional cameraman with a video camera – to monitor the election campaigns of contesting candidates and political parties in NA 151. The team will report to the provincial election commissioner concerned on a daily basis.
The commission has also directed the local administration to ensure security to each team for the duration of their monitoring in the constituency.
If a candidate is proven guilty of violating the code of conduct on the basis of proof submitted by the monitoring teams, opponent candidates or media reports, the commission, for the first time, has prescribed imprisonment of up to three years along with a fine of up to Rs5,000. Those convicted, however, are disqualified from contesting as well.
Long-distance car rallies are also banned under the new rules, except if they have pre-arranged corner meetings at specific designated places.
Meanwhile, no candidate or party will be entitled to hoist party flags at any public place except with the permission, in writing, and on payment of fee or charges as applicable, by the concerned local government or authorities.
Wall chalking has been prohibited while the use of loudspeakers has been banned, except at election meetings.
All printed material has also been regulated with the prescribed maximum size of posters 2 by 3 feet, hoardings 3 by 5 feet, banners 3 by 9 feet and leaflets 9 x 6 inches.
Political parties and their candidates shall also convey their schedule of meeting at least one week in advance to the local administration.
No party, candidate or an election agent or their supporter shall use any vehicle to convey to or from the polling station any elector, except himself and members of his immediate family.
Contesting parties and candidates have also been barred from establishing camps within a 400-yard radius of polling station on the election day. All political activity will be prohibited in that radius.
The Election Commission said it will review all election activities including gatherings, rallies, the use of loudspeakers etc.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2012.