The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Sunday took notice of Punjab caretaker government’s failure to ensure putting in place adequate security measures and has directed them to play their role in conducting free and fair elections.
“It appears, unfortunately, that concerned authorities have yet to take the bull by the horns,” Secretary ECP Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, said in a letter, to Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Dr Hasan Askari.
Citing media reports, the letter further said that election candidates have been harassed and physically threatened at various places. “Incidents in Multan and Narowal require immediate corrective measures,” he added.
Secretary ECP, in the letter, also referred to the presentation he made during a meeting chaired by Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk on June 25 in connection with the general elections scheduled to take place on July 25.
“In the said presentation, the participants were specifically made aware of the threat to political leaders and contesting candidates,” Muhammad stressed in the letter.
All the four provincial chief ministers, chief secretaries, inspector generals of police, interim federal ministers and interior secretary were present during the presentation.
The letter was written a day after PML-N candidate for Punjab Assembly’s seat PP-219 from Multan Rana Iqbal Siraj alleged that intelligence officials raided his warehouse and manhandled him.
This followed a media talk by PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in London in which he accused a premier intelligence agency of repeatedly calling Siraj at his office in Multan and pressurising him to shift loyalties. He said other PML-N candidates were also under immense pressure to withdraw their PML-N candidatures for the general polls.
But, in another twist to this episode, Siraj later issued a televised statement saying his warehouse was raided by Agriculture Department and his accusations about intelligence agencies were the ‘result of a misunderstanding’.
The ECP secretary’s letter to Punjab caretaker CM says cites under Article 218(3) of the Constitution, underscoring that it is the duty of the electoral body to organise and conduct elections honestly, justly and fairly.
“The stated constitutional mandate can be achieved only in a conducive law and order environment,” it adds.
“I have been, therefore, directed in the spirit of Article 220 to enjoin, through you, the police and the administration not to rest on their oars till the task of a fair and free election is achieved.”
Following opposition parties’ complaints about abuse of powers, Punjab’s Local Government and Community Development (LGCD) department has barred all local government representatives to participate in political activities and electioneering for any political party.
An LGCD spokesperson said that the department has issued a notification for implementing the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) Code of Conduct for 2018 general elections. The department has barred all mayors, deputy mayors, chairmen, vice-chairmen and other elected public representatives of metropolitan corporation, district councils, municipal corporations and municipal committees to participate or cooperate in electioneering of any political party or candidate across Punjab.
The caretaker government has decided not to allow any local government representative to participate in electioneering for any party.
He added that strict action will be taken against all violators of the ECP code.
The LGCD spokesperson highlighted that the ECP had forwarded complaints about 823 polling stations across Punjab, out of which the department has provided all requisite facilities at 819 polling stations. It is pointed out that 188 polling stations have no boundary wall so the department had made arrangement for placement of tents around these polling stations established in the premises of various government departments.
He further highlighted that the commission has forwarded 68 complaints about different violations of code by government officers and officials. The LGCD department has also resolved these complaints by taking necessary action.
Opposition parties have already demanded the ECP to suspend or cease the powers of local governments because the former ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has majority in local governments across the province, is using local government officials for influencing the election process.
Contesting candidates of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) and other opposition parties have complained about local government representatives using their position and state resources in electioneering for the PML-N in gross violation of the ECP code.
PTI’s candidate for NA-130 Shafqat Mahmood said his party has demanded the commission to suspend powers of all local government till the polling day (July 25).
Ejaz Chaudhry, another PTI candidate from NA-130, highlighted that local government representatives are indulging in a door-to-door campaign of former ruling party candidates. They are using their position and public resources to benefit one party. In all areas, town administrations are engaged in displaying the PML-N candidates’ banners and removing opposition parties’ banners from the area.
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PML-Q senior central leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi believes free, fair and transparent election cannot be held without suspending local bodies as the PML-N has already started ‘pre-poll rigging’ in Punjab through its local government representatives who, he claimed, are busy in organising PML-N’s corner meetings and public gatherings.
“Caretaker governments are claiming about holding of fair and transparent elections but if the local bodies are not suspended till polling day then the claim of caretaker governments will not be based on reality. The ECP and caretaker governments should take immediate notice of this situation so that their claim about transparency of election seems to be based on reality,” he maintained.