ISLAMABAD: A code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday barring Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif from taking part in his own poll campaign for a by-election to NA-120 left observers bewildered.

The National Assembly seat in Lahore fell vacant upon the disqualification of prime minister Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court last week. The polling has been scheduled for Sept 17.

“After the issuance of schedule of by-election, the president, prime minister, chairman and deputy chairman senate, speakers of assemblies, federal ministers, ministers of state, governor, chief minister, provincial ministers and advisers to the prime minister and the chief minister, members of the national and provincial assemblies and other public office-holders will neither visit the area of any constituency nor shall openly or in secret give any subscription or donation or make promise for giving such subscription or donation to any institution of a constituency, nor shall inaugurate, commit to undertake or announce any development project therein for the advancement of the campaign of a candidate of his choice and thereby influence the results of election,” reads the code of conduct issued for the crucial electoral battle in the provincial capital.

According to the code of conduct, all these public office-holders, including the Punjab chief minister who is a potential candidate for the by-election to NA-120, have been restrained from visiting the constituency or a polling station after the issuance of the poll schedule. It warned that legal action would be taken under Section 103A of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1976, relating to contempt proceedings, against any individual found in violation of the rules.

Observers wonder how CM can be barred from canvassing if the law permits a candidate to run for a house even if he is a member of another

The code of conduct was issued by the ECP in pursuance of Article 218(3) of the Constitution, read with Article 220, and Article 18 of the Political Parties Order of 2002 (Chief Executive’s Order No 18 of 2002), Workers Party of Pakistan Case (PLD 2012 so 681) and all other related powers.

“The contents of this code of conduct shall be considered as directives of ECP and violation of any of its clauses thereof shell be proceeded against under Article 204 of the constitution, read with Section 103A of the Representation of the Peoples’ Act,” the preamble to the code warns.

Observers wondered how the holder of a public office could be barred from taking part in his own election campaign even though the law permitted a legislator to contest election for another house without tendering resignation. They believed the code of conduct would confuse the returning officer even more than it did the ECP.

A senior official of the ECP said a clear picture would emerge after the submission of nomination papers by Shahbaz Sharif for the by-election to NA-120. He said the code had been issued as a standard practice and might be amended by the commission if the sitting chief minister’s candidature was accepted.

He agreed with an interpretation that the Supreme Court’s judgement barring public office-holders from electioneering in the Workers Party case was general in nature. “This is a unique situation because if the chief minister of Punjab files nomination papers, he will not be campaigning for somebody else but for himself and this right can in no way be taken away from him.”

The ECP also reminded candidates that their election expenses should not exceed Rs 1.5 million and they must use a dedicated account for all transactions related to poll expenses.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2017

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