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Five major irregularities ECP is ignoring

by Ahmad Noorani

The Election of Pakistan (ECP) despite having all constitutional powers is inactive about five basic irregularities and dubious developments at this crucial stage of election process ahead of the most thrilling July 25 electoral contest of Pakistan history.

The irregularities and dubious developments out of the radar of ECP include; violation of code of conduct for 2018 general elections by top leaders of political parties, role of returning officers and tribunals, government officials taking part in election campaign along with candidates, harassment of candidates across Punjab and change in the election schedule.

The ECP Spokesman Nadeem Qasim responded to ‘The News’ saying the ECP can only write to the government departments concerned regarding complaints of harassment, pressure or threats but can’t act at its own to stop such activities. “We have already written to the government departments concerned regarding all complaints received so far and to provide security to all such candidates and now it is the duty of the departments to comply with ECP orders,” Nadeem Qasim said.

On this ‘The News’ contacted spokesman for the federal government and Federal Information Minister Ali Zafar and asked him the same question and viewpoint of the ECP. Ali Zafar said no such letter was written by ECP to the federal government and might have been written to some provincial government departments. Ali Zafar said that it is the duty of the caretaker government to ensure conduct free, fair and transparent elections and if any such complaint of threats and harassment of the candidates is received, the federal government will certainly act. “See, there has to be some proper complaint with evidence for the government to take an action,” Ali said adding:“Whenever any such complaint is received or ECP writes to us, the federal government will act at its own as well as direct the provincial governments to take action.”

Political leaders considered as ‘powerful’ are openly violating code of conduct and defying all rules and the very institution of the ECP. The PTI chief while addressing an election rally on Sunday in Bannu termed the respected politician and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman as “Diesel” and senior JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani as “Pharaoh”. Imran Khan alleged that Fazlur Rehman sold himself for a permit of diesel. Imran further added that it is the humiliation of the word “Maulana” to term Fazlur Rehman as “Maulana”. Analysts are already commenting that if ECP lets this kind of trend go and allows such dirty language and unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations, the upcoming polls will be the most terrible election of our history. Imran Khan’s abusive language and hurling of serious allegations against Maulana Fazlur Rehman without presenting any evidence is a clear violation of point-46 and 47 of code of conduct for 2018 general elections.

Point 46 of code of conduct for 2018 general elections issued by the ECP reads: “Criticism of other political parties and opponent candidates shall be confined to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of any aspect of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism based on unverified allegations and distortion of facts shall be avoided.” Whereas the point-47 reads, “The political parties, contesting candidates, election agents and their supporters shall refrain from deliberate dissemination of false and malicious information and shall not indulge in forgeries and disinformation to defame other political parties/leaders. The use of abusive language against the leaders and candidates shall be avoided at all costs.” Whereas, point-61 of the ECP’s code of conduct reads, “Article 218(3) of the Constitution empowers the ECP to guard against the corrupt practices i.e. bribery, personation, undue influence, capturing of polling station or polling booth, tampering with papers and making or publishing a false statement or declaration, exceeding the limit of election expenses etc. The violation of code of conduct shall entail punitive action i.e. declaring an election void for corrupt/illegal practices.”

To make the election process fair, ECP will have to summon PTI chief and will have to ask him to present admissible evidence of the allegations he levelled against such a senior and seasoned politician and in case Imran Khan fails to provide evidence, point-61 of the same code of conduct should be invoked. Only such steps and strict implementation of the code of conduct can clear confusions and make the election process credible. Same steps should be taken against leaders belonging to any other party if they use this kind of language and level such baseless allegations without presenting any kind of evidence.

However, when The News asked the same question to ECP spokesman, Nadeem Qasim said the ECP has appointed ‘Monitoring Officers’ in every district who are monitoring any violations of the code of conduct. The ECP will take stern action against any such violation if a Monitoring Officer of a district will inform the ECP in this behalf. “Still, if a monitoring officer is not writing to the ECP over such violations of code of conduct, any person can file a complaint to the ECP along with the evidence and ECP will certainly take action.”

During the scrutiny process, nomination papers of top leaders like Imran Khan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and others were initially rejected on baseless grounds creating unnecessary confusion and disrupted a smooth process of nominations and scrutiny as well as the campaign. Even election tribunals gave such dubious and baseless decisions without mentioning any solid grounds or reasons. According to almost all the independent experts, returning officers and tribunals haven’t played a transparent role. Returning officers are attending unauthorised and illegal meetings which ECP should stop. Certain specific candidates with known background and affiliations contesting as independent candidates are applying for issuance of a similar election symbol and returning officers are issuing the same to those specific candidates. In some cases, candidates request at their own for issuance of an election symbol while in some cases where candidates do not apply the returning officer can issue an election symbol at his/her own. Such trends will further blur the transparent image of elections.

The ECP spokesman Nadeem Qasim said the ECP has already written to the concerned authorities and departments to address any violations and the commission will continue to act against any complaints filed with it or brought into its notice with evidence.

The government officials are seen visiting constituencies along with candidates at a time when election campaign has been officially launched. Even the head of an important constitutional institution was seen visiting government offices along with a candidate at a time when election campaign has been properly launched. The ECP should not demonstrate restraint and set aside all kinds of pressure and must show its teeth and use constitutional powers to stop such illegal practices. Action must be initiated against such government servants under the constitution.

Harassment of candidates is underway across the province of Punjab. Many candidates have been pressured not to accept tickets from a particular political party. Not only this, those who have taken the tickets after properly applying for it are being tremendously pressured to return the tickets and contest as independent candidates by some political forces. Pressure is so much that these under-threat candidates are not narrating the actual situation. The ECP using its constitutional powers should move forward for immediate constitution of a high powered commission having top and independent experts to ascertain as to why these candidates were made to return the party tickets of one particular party. ECP has taken notice of only two incidents of harassment whereas hundreds of such incidents have taken place. The process is still continuing and if not stopped will greatly damage the credibility of the 2018 general elections.

The ECP spokesman told The News that the commission has written to concerned government departments over the issue of threats, attacks and harassment of contesting candidates in Punjab. He said ECP can do only this and now it the duty of relevant government functionaries to act and provide justice and complete security to such candidates. Federal information minister Ali Zafar also said that if a candidate or a political party files an official complaint, swift action will be taken.

There has been an uncalled-for change in the election schedule and requests of the candidates to surrender party tickets and to change the election symbols, which caused great setback to the political parties as this was done at a very crucial time. This move deprived such political parties of placing some other suitable candidate in those constituencies. Had ECP disallowed this, the candidates would have to contest under the party symbol. In that case, if elected, they could have faced the defection clause of the constitution if they would have chosen to oppose the party candidate for the office of the prime minister. The ECP Spokesman Nadeem Qasim told The News that no change was made in the election schedule and legally it was possible to get the party ticket changed.courtesy The News

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