ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court (IHC) declined to issue an interim order on Friday to restrain the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) from proceeding against Prime Minister Imran Khan and federal ministers for allegedly violating the code of conduct during the ongoing campaign for local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The ECP earlier issued notices to Prime Minister Khan, KP Governor Shah Farman, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, federal ministers Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Murad Saeed, and others for allegedly violating the canvassing rules ahead of the polls.

The second phase of local government election in the remaining 18 out of 35 KP districts is set to take place on March 31. Meanwhile, the first phase of local government polls in 17 out of 36 districts of Punjab are due in the last week of May.

After receiving the ECP notices, PM Khan and Planning Minister Asad Umar petitioned the IHC. The court registrar’s office then raised administrative objections to the petition, which were later removed by the prime minister and the petition was subsequently fixed for a hearing by Justice Aamer Farooq.

During the hearing, Barrister Syed Ali Zafar — the counsel for Mr Khan and Mr Umar — argued that the president promulgated an ordinance amending the Elections Act of 2017 to enable public office holders to canvass during the election campaigns.

Justice Farooq remarked that the government appeared to rely on ordinances to run its affairs.

Barrister Zafar requested the court to restrain the ECP from proceeding against Mr Khan and ministers. But Justice Farooq declined the request, saying that the court would not issue such orders without hearing the election commission.

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.

However, the chief election commissioner, during a consultative meeting with the representatives of some 17 political parties, sought the draft code of conduct for the next elections. According to a statement issued by the ECP, the commission revised the code of conduct for all stakeholders in light of the consultation.

It allowed ordinary members of parliament and provincial assemblies to take part in canvassing but issued notices to Mr Khan and ministers summoning them on March 14 Upon court’s inquiry, Barrister Zafar said the PM did not appear before the ECP on the said date.

Justice Farooq observed that the conduct of the petitioner, i.e. Mr Khan, was unreasonable since he should appear before the ECP to give his stance.

Barrister Zafar asserted the ECP lacked jurisdiction to overrule the amendments introduced through an ordinance.

The court, however, was of the view that the election commission had the constitutional mandate to devise a code of conduct to ensure free and fair elections.

Justice Farooq, however, issued notices to the ECP and the Cabinet Division, and asked the Attorney General to assist the court in this matter.

The next hearing in the case is set for March 28.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2022

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