An unrealistic code for elections

Published: July 1, 2012
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The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

Pick up any news item these days and there will be a connection with the Supreme Court in one way or the other. The spine recently developed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also owes its existence to a Supreme Court directive, which resulted in a brand new code limiting the election expenses of a candidate to Rs1.5 million. Election candidates were banned from providing transport facilities to voters on election day and were prohibited from using other promotional tools. The sentiment is noble but the implementation of this code of conduct seems impossible for various reasons.

Given the state of inflation and the size of constituencies — particularly, for the National Assembly — the amount of Rs1.5 million is unrealistic. Well-heeled Pakistanis spend more on a valima; expecting candidates to woo around a hundred thousand voters per constituency on that budget would be a tad unreal. In addition, a lot of services during campaigns are provided without any monetary transaction. One supporter gets the banners printed while another provides tents for the jalsa and a third supporter does the catering for the aforementioned jalsa, free of cost. This makes the process of keeping the tabs very difficult.

The ECP also prohibits the political parties from hoisting party flags on public property or at any public place unless granted permission by the local government for a certain fee. Every city is already flooded with political flags of all colours and hues. The residents of Karachi will vouch that they have seen the political flags of all parties inundating their streets, making the street look like it is in a perpetual state of a campaign of some kind or other. The code of conduct is silent on how the ECP will get rid of the flags and whether is has the authority to order local governments to do so. Further, the removal of party flags is contingent upon local governments having the resources to remove them.

Wall chalking as part of an election campaign is also prohibited by the ECP along with the use of loudspeakers, barring election meetings. Again, controlling wall chalking would be a momentous task and the candidates can always say that their supporters and not their campaign teams are behind it.

Further, the ECP also forbids candidates to affix posters, hoardings or banners larger than the prescribed sizes for the campaign. Most urban centres and highways already sport larger than life hoardings of political leaders; the Sharif brothers in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Gujranwala, Asfandyar Wali in Charsadda and Peshawar, Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Hyderabad, Imran Khan in Lahore and Peshawar and the whole Bhutto clan almost everywhere in Pakistan. These hoardings do not ask voters to vote for any particular candidate during the election period. Hence, they are not related to any election campaign. Yet, they propagate the messages of various political parties and can affect the election process. The ECP’s code of conduct does not say anything about these advertisements.

The ECP also banned candidates from providing transport facilities to voters on election day, which, again, is essential for maintaining neutrality. However, it can adversely impact the percentage of voters, who will actually go out and vote. While limiting election expenses is a very commendable step for which ECP should be congratulated, it needs to make the code of conduct more realistic and must also come up with ways to implement it.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Jul 1, 2012 - 11:07PM

    ECP is well correct in imposing the spending limit. All those expenses which have been noted need to be curtailed and election campaign be carried out . Candidate needs to make his/her image throughout the years and not on the eve of election
    Higher the expenses the law maker will first try to recover the election expenses and also for the future election. Naturally there is every possibility for him to carry out corrupt practices. And this leads to suction of money meant for the welfare of the public.

    It is also true that unrealistic upper limit on expenses will encourage to use the black money and expenses will no be accounted in their books. Start of corrupt practices.
    The voters should not be carried out by caste, creed,ethnicity,provincialism etc. An honest member of Parliament proves to be a great asset.

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  • Mirza
    Jul 2, 2012 - 8:21AM

    A great Op Ed and a mirror to the judges who have assumed the role of policy makers.

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  • Teal
    Jul 2, 2012 - 1:05PM

    I don’t think it is wrong with driving people to the poll booths anything. It’s very standard practice in many countries. People are free to vote as they please inside the booth. And it is not like a bribe of food; people don’t gain anything by being driven to the poll booth.

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  • Mirza
    Jul 2, 2012 - 7:20PM

    Unless the govt provides free transportation to the elderly, sick, women and handicapped, this is only going to suppress voter’s participation especially in rural heartland. The expenses can be controlled in all areas except on transportation on the Election Day. On one hand the enemies of democracy keep talking about low voter turnout on the other the courts (who are making policies and laws now) want to limit the turnout so they can all delegitimize the next elected govt also. Voting should be made mandatory and all facilities be provided to the voter to increase participation. In the other areas like VIP travel, big parties and hotels, media ads, etc., should be controlled but not voter participation.

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  • Nangdharangg Pakistani
    Jul 2, 2012 - 9:17PM

    Timely and well-written …

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  • Anonymous
    Jul 3, 2012 - 10:09PM

    @Mirza:
    People’s representative should make laws and ECP should implement

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  • Raja Islam
    Jul 4, 2012 - 1:12AM

    We have a tendency to create un-enforceable rules/laws. There is no way that this set of rules would ever get enforced. What will end up happening is that if the government wants to pick on someone and does not have any other thing to pin on them, then they will use these laws as an excuse to arrest/fine individuals.

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  • Ali Abbas Hazara
    Jul 4, 2012 - 11:18PM

    The code of conduct issued for the election contesting candidates would be unacceptable. The limit for expenditure is also very little as compare to the increasing inflation. Moreover, denying the facilities of providing transport to voters, means to keep maximum aged number of voters away from casting their votes. It virtually means to avoid promotion of democratic means. Surprisingly enough, such a decision comes from the Chief Election Commissioner. He would have really won the heart of a great deal of people, had he decreed to facilitate people by the government.

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