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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has raised objections to the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for Lahore’s National Assembly constituency NA-120 that bars all public office-holders, including members of the national and provincial assemblies, from campaigning for their candidates.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a letter addressed to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) said: “As the vice-chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), I am writing to formally raise objections in respect of sub paragraphs (v) & (vi) of the ECP Notification No.F.8(4)2013 dated 01.08.2017 (the “ECP Notification”) which place a prohibiting on an MNA from visiting the concerned constituency or polling station”.

He noted that the prohibitions placed by the ECP were punitive in their application as they sought to undermine the spirit for which they had been actually intended, so as to ensure that the election process was not unduly influenced by a person or did not provide an unfair advantage to a particular candidate.

All public office-holders, including MNAs and MPAs, are barred from campaigning for their candidates

“As an MNA belonging to an opposition party, I do not currently hold any official position and/or portfolio in the government. Consequently, I am not in a position to make promises for donations and/or funds, or commit to undertake or announce any development project to the electorate of NA-120. Furthermore, as a member of an opposition party, I do not have access to any funds, even with respect to the development of my own constituency or the requisite powers to influence development schemes in NA-120. However, it is important to note that the candidate belonging to the ruling PMLN political party, which is in government, has the ability to influence the election process in an unfair manner and obtain undue advantage by highlighting the government’s ability to undertake development schemes and local projects. Therefore, the aforesaid matter requires to be monitored carefully.”

He said that in addition as a member of an opposition party, he had no control or authority over the local or provincial administration in Punjab, and as such his presence in the respective constituency would not provide any undue advantage to Dr Yasmeen Rashid as the PTI candidate in NA-120.

The bar placed vide the ECP notification restricts the mandate of the members of the PTI and essentially extinguishes the rights of an elected office-bearer of a political party by prohibiting him/her from presenting the party’s policies to the electorate of NA-120, he notes. In addition, it deprives the PTI of the opportunity for a level-playing field. The candidate from the ruling PML-N party would have access to the entire government machinery and be in a position to undertake commitments on the basis of his/her party’s position. Consequently, the logic and rationale of any prohibition which extinguishes the right of an elected office-bearer from representing the party policies to the electorate appears to be misplaced and prima facie incorrect.

“In light of the aforesaid discussion, I am formally objecting to, and challenging the ECP notification, and would request that sub paragraphs (v) & (vi) of the same be amended to remove the words ‘Members of National Assembly/Provincial Assembly’,” he concluded.

The PTI leader also held a meeting with CEC retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza to take up the issue with him. The CEC told him that he was seeking opinion of the four members of the ECP and a decision on whether to modify the code or otherwise would be taken after that.

An official of the ECP told Dawn that the ECP’s code of conduct was in line with the judgement of the apex court in the Workers’ Party case, but many wonder if the Supreme Court had the mandate to encroach upon something which was exclusive domain of the ECP.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2017

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