All political parties, except the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have opposed prominent public officials’ participation in the election campaign as allowed under the new election code recently introduced by the government through a presidential decree.
This was revealed at a consultative session held at the Election Commission of Pakistan Secretariat to discuss the changes in the code of conduct.
Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja presided over the session while representatives of 17 political parties attended it. Prominent among those were PTI’s State Minister for Information Farrukh Habib, PPP’s Senator Taj Haider and ex-senator Farhatullah Babar, and PML-N’s Zahid Hamid and Ahsan Iqbal.
The objective of the session was to further improve the draft code of conduct for the next general election to be held in 2023 by seeking the views of political parties on an amendment to Section 181-A of the Elections Act through a recently promulgated ordinance.
Through this amendment, the government wants public office-holders and officers to participate in election campaigns.
However, some smaller political parties suggested that ordinary members of the legislatures be allowed to take part in electioneering, but representatives of the majority of political parties present at the consultative session opposed the ordinance.
As the ECP had already written to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs for a review of the amendment, leading political parties also contended that under Section 233 of the Elections Act, the code of conduct act was required to be framed by the ECP in consultation with the political parties and that the government had no legal mandate to amend it through an ordinance.
However, contrary to this, the PTI representatives argued that the Election Commission should regulate the code of conduct while keeping in view the ordinance, saying the freedom of movement guaranteed under the Constitution could not be taken away.
But most of the political parties agreed that the lawmakers should not be allowed to visit areas where elections are to take place after the announcement of the election schedule, and they also contended that there should be a complete ban on other public office-holders, including the president, prime minister, governors, chief ministers, chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly, and members of the federal and provincial cabinets.
They warned that the controversial ordinance would be a hurdle to the way of free and fair elections.
Significantly, the CEC also reportedly said that the ECP had already conveyed its concern about the ordinance to the Attorney General.
He said the government had also been told that the ordinance was in conflict with some provisions of the Constitution and the Elections Act through a letter written to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
He also referred to the majority’s views on the ordinance and said a decision on the viability of the ordinance would be taken shortly by the commission at a meeting.