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ISLAMABAD, Jan 7: Senior officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) completed on Monday the process of consultation with political parties on the code of conduct for the coming general election.

At a meeting of Senate’s special committee on election issues, presided over by its chairman Jehangir Badr, political parties agreed to empower the ECP to hold a summary trial of polling staff found involved in attempts to steal the mandate of a candidate through any irregularity.

In September last year, the ECP had unveiled the draft code of conduct, which for the first time barred the president and provincial governors from taking part in the election campaign after the announcement of poll schedule and sought suggestions from political parties within 15 days.

Several political parties had decided to give their proposals from the forum of the Senate’s special committee, which for all practical purposes has turned into a parliamentary committee.

Jehangir Badr, who is also Leader of the House in the Senate, told a press conference after the meeting that the committee had completed its recommendations on the code of conduct and decided to empower the ECP to hold free, fair and transparent elections.

He said election officials found involved in malpractices would face punitive action. Nobody would be allowed to steal the elections either by bullying and rigging or by using guns or money, the senator asserted.

He invited input from all stakeholders on the code of conduct. “This is a message for Dr Tahirul Qadri, as well,” he remarked.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Ishaq Dar, said all parties represented in the upper house of parliament were part of the consultative process. He said the ECP would review the recommendations made with consensus and come back to the committee after three days.

Ishaq Dar said consequential amendments in electoral laws would be reviewed in the light of the code of conduct and he would pilot these amendments with the same spirit of consensus. He said the punishment for election-related crimes would be enhanced.

Electoral reforms would be completed within a few weeks, Mr Dar added.

During the meeting, Director General (elections) ECP Sher Afgan explained difficulties in implementing directives of the Supreme Court, including provision of transport and sending ‘parchis’ (voter’s extract) to the electorate.

He said that provision of transport would cost about Rs12 billion and ‘parchis’ would involve Rs400 to 500 million, making it the most expensive polls in the country’s history.

He said ‘parchis’ were required to have particulars, including polling station of each voter, and polling stations would be finalised two weeks before the polls. “How would we print and send millions of ‘parchis’ in such a short time,” he wondered.

The meeting decided that the ECP would go in review against the judgment. Various political parties found it not feasible. They were of the view that the candidates should be allowed to give ‘parchis’ to voters with their election symbols and set up camps outside polling stations.

Ishaq Dar said that ‘parchis’ were a substitute to handbills and would help reduce the election expenditure.Ishtiak Ahmad Khan, the ECP Secretary, informed the meeting that the commission would consult the secretary of postal services to explore the idea of sending ‘parchis’ along with utility bills. “We will love to do it if it is found possible,” he remarked.

Sughra Imam of the PPP was of the opinion that it would be impossible and inappropriate to send parchis to voters by post.

The directive of the Supreme Court about a ban on car rallies from travelling long distances also came under discussion and it was observed that the ECP would not be able to keep a check on the expenditure involved.

Shahi Syed of the ANP, in a light mood, said there should be a ban on car rallies and it should be enforced before January 14 – the date of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march. “We will come on foot,” Col (retd) Tahir Mashhadi of the MQM, sitting beside him, retorted. The committee endorsed the idea of “PTV democracy” channel for coverage of pre-poll activities and said that a formula for allocation of time to political parties was being worked out. The idea floated by Ishaq Dar was supported by the ECP secretary.

The issue of election campaign in the cantonment areas was also raised and it was decided that the ECP would take up the matter with the defence secretary.