ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has suspended all the local government functionaries across the country till the July 25 elections.

“The provincial governments shall ensure that the normal functions of sanitation and cleanliness may not affect during the period of suspension,” reads a notification issued on Tuesday.

It points out that the ECP is charged with the constitutional duty to organise and conduct elections in terms of Article 218 of the Constitution, and to make such arrangements that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and corrupt practices are guarded against.

“….It has become imperative that the Commission may take all necessary steps under the law to prevent any action on the part of the local government institutions that amounts to influence the results of upcoming general elections by depriving the candidates of level playing field,” it reads.

The ECP had earlier barred the local government functionaries from taking part in election campaign of candidates.

It is for the first time in the country’s electoral history that the local governments have been suspended prior to general elections.

The commission gave powers of first class magistrate to designated officers in charge of armed forces and civil armed forces to be deployed to provide security in and outside polling stations from July 23 to 27.

They will enjoy the powers for the entire period of deployment in respect of offences punishable under Sections 174, 176, 177, 183 and 194 of the Elections Act and will be authorised to take cognizance of any such offences under any of the clauses of Section 190 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code and to try any such offences in a summary manner.

“Pakistan Armed Forces / Civil Armed Forces personnel deployed inside and outside a polling station while performing their security duties are supposed to first report to the presiding officer any irregularity / malpractice that they observe inside or outside the polling station and act according to the instructions issued by him in this regard. In case, the presiding officer does not act to prevent the commission of any reported irregularity / malpractice, the security staff will immediately bring the matter to the notice of the designated officer in charge of Pakistan Armed Forces / Civil Armed Forces who shall immediately take action in the light of powers delegated to him and also inform the returning officer concerned,” reads a notification issued by the ECP.

It says the troops so deployed shall also be governed by Article 245 of the Constitution, (inclusive of all clauses and sub-sections) and Sections 4 and 5 of Anti-terrorism Act, 1997, for the period of deployment.

The notification says the armed forces and civil armed forces deployed at printing facilities from June 27 will perform their duties till July 25 to make foolproof security arrangements during the printing, stacking and storage of ballot papers.

They will also provide security during transportation of ballot papers, including postal ballots, and material from printing presses to respective districts and polling stations.

Meanwhile, the ECP explained that the security personnel deployed at polling stations will have no role in result transmission. It said under para 14 of the code of conduct for security personnel they shall provide peaceful environment at the polling station so that the presiding officer can easily transmit election results in presence of candidates or their agents.

The ECP has taken serious notice of airing of a PTI advertisement containing abusive, insolent and derogatory language against other political parties.

In a communication sent to PTI chief Imran Khan, the commission said this constitutes violation of the code of conduct for political parties and candidates and directed him to desist from such tendencies failing which the commission will take action in accordance with the law.

The ECP also directed the Pemra chairman to immediately instruct all electronic media not to air such advertisements.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018