ISLAMABAD: Dismissing the controversial presidential ordinance that amended the rules for polls, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) barred key public office-holders, including the president and prime minister, from taking part in election campaigns.

Last month, President Dr Arif Alvi had promulgated an ordinance amending the Elections Act and added Section 181(A) to it, allowing members of parliament, provincial assembly or elected members of local government to visit or address public meetings in “any area or constituency” before elections.

Earlier this week, representatives of some 17 political parties attended a session chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja during which their opinion was sought on the draft code of conduct for the next general elections.

According to a statement issued by the ECP’s media wing on Friday, the commission revised the code of conduct for all stakeholders in light of the consultations. It, however, allowed ordinary members of parliament and provincial assemblies to take part in canvassing.

Federal and provincial lawmakers, senators still allowed to campaign

“The public office holders, including president, prime minister, chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, speaker and deputy speaker of any assembly, federal minister, minister of state, governors, chief ministers, provincial ministers and advisers to the prime minister and the mayors, chairman, nazim, their deputies, shall not participate in any manner whatsoever. However… members of the National Assembly, provincial assembly and Senate are allowed to participate in the election campaign [provided they] abide by the code of conduct,” the revised guidelines read.

Section 181 of the Elections Act states: “No government functionary or elected representative, including a local government functionary or elected representative, shall announce any development scheme for a constituency after the announcement of the election programme of that constituency.”

A senior ECP official told Dawn the commission was mandated to frame a code of conduct for political parties, candidates and others involved in the electoral exercise under Section 233 of the Act.

According to Section 233: “The commission shall, in consultation with political parties, frame a code of conduct for political parties, contesting candidates, election agents and polling agents. The commission shall also frame a code of conduct for security personnel, media and election observers. A political party, a candidate, an election agent, a polling agent, security personnel, media and an observer shall follow the code of conduct during an election.”

The official said the revised rules had been issued after consultation with political parties. He pointed out that parliament and the provincial assemblies were barred under Article 222 of the Constitution from passing any law that takes away or abridges any of the powers of the chief election commissioner or the commission itself.

The revised code of conduct comes at a time when the second phase of local government elections in the remaining 18 out of 35 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is set to take place on March 31, and first phase of LG polls in 17 out of 36 districts of Punjab in the last week of May.

Many believe the controversial ordinance amending the Elections Act was meant to give a legal cover to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s public rallies in the two provinces.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2022

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