LAHORE: Amid a question mark over who from among the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz would supervise the by-election in NA-120 in Lahore, the Pakistan Peoples Party on Saturday challenged the nomination papers of the PML-N candidate Kulsoom Nawaz, while the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf accused the ruling party of violating the election code of conduct and threatened a nationwide protest if their demand for electoral reforms was not met.

Rumours abound that MNA Hamza Shahbaz’s departure from the country right before the by-election in NA-120 is indicative of a falling-out in the family, considering that he has been the main strategist and supervisor for all by-elections contested by the PML-N in Punjab so far.

The rumours deepened as his father, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, was passed over for the post of prime minister after being announced as the PML-N’s first choice for who would take over from ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

After that post went to PM Khaqan Abbasi, the PML-N had announced that Mr Shahbaz would become the PML-N president. However, the post was given to Senator Sardar Yaqoob Nasar from Balochistan.

On the other hand, PML-N leaders have come up with contradictory explanations for Mr Hamza’s absence.

Opposition parties allege ECP code violations by PML-N

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Mr Hamza could not oversee the election campaign due to security threats. Therefore, the party had asked Minister Pervaiz Malik to oversee the election campaign in NA-120.

Another party official, however, said that Mr Malik had been appointed in charge of the NA-120 election campaign because he was the president of the PML-N’s Lahore chapter. Requesting not to be named, he also claimed that Mr Hamza was expected to return in a few days.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s code of conduct issued for the NA-120 by-polls, no public office-holder, including ministers, MNAs or MPAs, could visit any area in the constituency or openly or in secret give subscriptions or donations or make promises to that effect after the issuance of the election schedule and till the completion of the polls.

Interestingly enough, both Mr Hamza and Mr Malik are MNAs. Mr Hamza has already been served notices by the ECP for violating such a code in earlier by-polls held in Jhelum, Vehari and Multan.

Nomination papers challenged

The PPP on Saturday approached the appellate tribunal of the Lahore High Court to challenge the returning officer’s (RO) decision to accept the nomination papers of Ms Nawaz.

Speaking at a news conference, PPP’s candidate for the NA-120 by-election Faisal Mir said there were many contradictions in the nomination papers submitted by Ms Nawaz.

Mr Mir said he would also file a petition against the PTI’s candidate for the election, Dr Yasmin Rashid, requesting the court to decide on her eligibility to contest the by-election after the court hearing a case regarding alleged foreign funds collected by the PTI gave its verdict on September 7.

Explaining the details of the objections he had filed, Mr Mir said Ms Nawaz had declared herself a “housewife” in the nomination papers but in other attached documents, she had been shown as an Iqama holder (work permit holder).

According to the nomination papers, he said, Ms Nawaz held various positions in 16 companies, owned by her husband. Despite all their wealth, he said that Ms Nawaz had declared Rs100,000 worth of jewellery and various assets worth Rs20 million — which did not add up.

He asserted that Ms Nawaz could not be considered honest or trustworthy because of that and should therefore be disqualified from contesting elections.

Reconstitution of ECP

The government must reconstitute the Election Commission of Pakistan and streamline the electoral process in consultation with all political forces, PTI leader Asad Umer said at a joint news conference on Saturday.

“If the government continues to maintain the status quo, the PTI will launch a protest movement across the country,” he said.

Mr Umer said the existing ECP had failed to restore political parties’ confidence following 2013 general elections’ experience.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr Yasmin Rashid said the ECP was yet to provide her the complete voter list of the NA-120 constituency, and added that 35 block codes were missing from the available voter list.

Citing an incident of shifting PTI votes out and bringing in PML-N’s votes in the constituency, she said PTI’s Shunila Ruth was verified as the party’s minority MPA on the basis of her vote in NA-120, but now her vote had been shifted to a village Lidher — outside the NA-120 constituency.

She said her party had also raised objections against ruling party’s candidate Kulsoom Nawaz in the election tribunal but it was of no use. She said the PML-N was blatantly violating the election code of conduct by launching development works in the constituency as well as transferring and posting officials after the announcement of election schedule.

PTI central information secretary Shafqat Mahmood lamented that a blanket restriction had been imposed on PTI leaders not to run Dr Rashid’s election campaign in the constituency. He said being an MNA from Lahore, he had not been given a single penny to initiate development projects in his constituency, but “the ECP is blatantly siding with the PML-N”.

Referring to the PML-N’s apparent onslaught on the judiciary and Pakistan Army, Mr Umer said the PML-N was heading towards a head-on clash with state institutions because it could foresee its political demise.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2017

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