ECP gearing up for 2018 polls


C. Rufin

Islamabad—Almost two weeks after Donald Trump was elected as the next US president, the Election Commission of Pakistan has become quite active in sharing its plans and preparations for General Elections 2018.
The Chief Election Commissioner Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan was in the US amid all the glare to observe the neck-and-neck US election between Donald Trump (Republican) and Hillary Clinton (Democrat) held on Nov 8.
With this in view the ECP held a consultative meeting of broadcasters and editors to discuss the guidelines for electronic and print media, and code of conduct for political parties, and contesting candidates at the ECP secretariat.
The meeting was presided over by the Chief Election Commissioner.
Majority of the participants representing various media groups praised the ECP for the hard work that had gone into the preparation of the two documents which seemed well-thought out and practical.
The code of conduct entails general conduct of political parties and contestants and voters during the electioneering period and the Election Day.
Major points that came under discussion regarding code of conduct for General Elections 2108 were:
Campaigning and canvassing on Election Day.
Criticism, condemnation, censure and hate speech.
Gender bias (especially transgender), ethnicity, religion or cast
Weird and anomalous promotional materials like hoarding and billboards etc.
Offering and receiving gifts, gratifications, bribery, intimidation, and use of violence.
Hoisting of party flags on public property or places without permission
Dissemination of false and malicious information, forgery and disinformation
Inappropriate and unreasonable use of public and private transport on the Election Day.
Election expenses limit — amounts allowed for (National Rs1.5m and Provincial Rs1m) assemblies were termed ‘unrealistic’ given the unpredictable nature of inflation rate in 2018).
Code of conduct for media:
During the electioneering period the media must feel its duty to inform the public about electoral matters while maintaining accuracy, balance and impartiality.
There should be no room for bias in the talk shows, interviews and analyses.
There needs to be full access of information to the media before, during and after the elections. And media on its part must respect, and promote every aspect of the election process. The need for prompt investigation of all incidents of violence, intimidation and harassment against media houses and personnel has been stressed.
Interference or prior censorship of any coverage or programmes is totally unacceptable and media professionals must not be penalized for merely being critical of a certain party or individual.
Media must feel obliged to broadcast voter education programmes, public service messages that reach the greatest number of voters all over the country.
Opinion polls and results must be conducted and released fairly explaining its scope and limitations with information about who conducted and who paid for it.
Media houses – print and electronic – must be engaged before the elections to have strict control over election-related paid or unpaid content.
The overall feel at the meeting was that the Election Commission of Pakistan must implement the code of conduct for elections 2018, and for media, in letter and spirit. This would be for the good of voters, contestants and Pakistan.
However, it was felt that the ECP must be more assertive in implementing the code of conduct for next General Elections, and code for media.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the Chief Election Commissioner told Pakistan Observer there could be a similar consultative session somewhere in the first quarter of 2017.

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