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ISLAMABAD: Chief Jus­tice Mian Saqib Nisar has said that the judiciary will ensure free, fair and impartial elections similar to the one held in 1970.

“All the political parties have to be given equal opportunities by providing a level-playing field,” the chief justice said on Monday while hearing a case pertaining to funds being spent on advertisements by the Punjab government. He said the federal and provincial governments would not be allowed to use hard-earned money of taxpayers for self-projection.

The chief justice observed that bureaucrats would be transferred from one province to another before the elections to ensure that no manipulation took place.

At a previous hearing, the Lahore registry of the Supreme Court had ordered Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to reimburse the national exchequer Rs5.5 million after a Punjab government newspaper advertisement carrying his photograph was displayed in the court room.

On Monday, Additional Advocate General of Punjab Asma Hamid furnished a copy of a cheque to establish that the money had been repaid in accordance with the court directions. When the law officer explained on a court query that money had been paid from the party fund, the court observed it seemed that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would have to check sources of party funds.

Referring to Sindh, the court observed the government must ensure that the pictures of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari or the chief minister of Sindh were not part of the government advertisements. The chief justice said: “Benazir is a martyr and she is respectable to us.” However, the practice of personal publicity with political figures in the advertisements should be brought to an end, the court observed.

The Supreme Court made it clear that the court was not placing a ban on newspaper advertisements but the directions were against politicians’ publicity at the cost of the hard-earned money of taxpayers.

KP govt’s ads

During the proceedings, it came to the notice of the court that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had spent Rs1.63 billion on advertisements over the past five years, whereas it doled out money for advertisements worth Rs20.4 million during the past three months only.

The court asked the KP’s information secretary to submit an affidavit that the pictures of PTI chief Imran Khan, KP chief minister Pervez Khattak were not used in the advertisements. The court also asked if the KP secretary could state on oath that the advertisement did not promote the provincial government in any sense or that the pictures of Imran Khan or KP chief minister did not appear in any advertisement. “Action will be taken if any misstatement is seen and the KP government will be personally responsible for any misstatement,” the chief justice cautioned.

The court then sought suggestions from federal and provincial governments as well as All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) regarding advertisements.

The court made it clear that no political campaigning through government advertisements would be acceptable, as political parties should use their own funds for such campaigns.

The hearing was adjourned till Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2018