ISLAMABAD - The initial draft of ECP’s 10th code of conduct for the general elections is akin to the previous nine codes the candidates had brazenly violated, thanks to the commission’s inability to take action owing to absence of a well-defined mechanism in this regard. Former ECP Secretary Kanwar Dilshad argues that not even a single candidate violating the code of conduct ever faced disqualification (Waheeda Shah was not disqualified for breaching code of conduct).He even believes that Pakistan would not have been disintegrated into two separate states had the election commission truly implemented its code of conduct during the 1970 polls.  The approved draft of the new code would be discussed with the political parties for their input before being officially notified for implementation. Strangely, the excessively lengthy document lacks a mention of the electoral expenditure limits for national and provincial assemblies’ seats. In the previous code, the ECP had fixed election expenses limit for the national assembly candidates at 1,500,000 (1.5 million) rupees and for every provincial assembly candidate at 1,000,000 (one million) rupees. But the 49-point new draft skipped this crucial rule of the code of conduct.Overall, the new code is strikingly similar to all the nine previous codes issued respectively ahead of 1970, 1977, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008 general elections. Also, the draft code sounds mere a repetition of ECP reiterations uttered in July this year. The commission had then announced strictly implementing its code, in pursuance of a Supreme Court judgment calling for a transparent electoral process. However, a by-election held just a few days later in Multan seemed to be ridiculing the ECP’s claims. Ali Musa Gilani, son of former Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, stood victorious in the by-poll held to fill the NA seat that fell vacant at the disqualification of his father.In March this year, the election commission had disqualified Waheeda Shah, a returned candidate for a Sindh Assembly seat, after video footages caught her manhandling the electoral staff in a bid to influence the results of the said by-polls in Tando Muhammad Khan. The commission disqualified the PPP candidate citing relevant provisions of the Representation of People Act 1976 which do not particularly entail code of conduct violation.Former ECP chief Kanwar Dilshad claimed that commission’s failure to get its code implemented allowed Shaikh Mujeebur Rehman-led Awami League to rig 1970 general polls in East Pakistan. This, he said, eventually resulted in the disintegration of East and West Pakistan. “There were more than 15 million non-Bengalis in East Pakistan at the time of 1970 polls. They were not allowed to cast votes and even stopped from entering the polling stations. Despite non-Bengalis being in such a large number in East Pakistan, Awami League, a Bengali nationalist party, swept the polls in that part. Would you believe that?” he asked this scribe referring to 162 of the total 163 seats in East Pakistan won by Awami League candidates in the 1970 general elections.“I believe, one of the major reasons of the formation of Bangladesh is the criminal negligence and inability shown by the then election commission. Had it played an effective role to get its code of conduct implemented, millions of Bengalis would have been able to exercise their right to vote. This would have changed the political picture in the East Pakistan.”Likewise, Dilshad argued, the massive rigging in 1977 general polls allegedly by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led government resulted in religious forces’ ‘ganging up’ against Bhutto and finally oust him from power. “Again, had the ECP played an effective role, things would have been different,” he said. “I wonder if history would ever forgive the unscrupulous elements at ECP who have historically connived with the rulers to rig polls or remained indifferent to the rigging,” he said demanding of the present ECP management to “stop making tall claims unless you gather the guts to materialise them. We’ve had enough of hollow words. Actions speak louder than words.”Some days back, the Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim during a conversation with this scribe had admitted that the ECP had certain ‘limitations’ as far as pre-poll rigging was concerned and the electoral body did not have any mechanism to take to task the elements involved in pre-poll rigging or violation of code of conduct in any constituency before the announcement of elections schedule. Later, the CEC confirmed to the media that the ECP was powerless in proceeding against the ‘culprits’ involved in rigging 1990 general polls.Dilshad suggested to the ECP to follow the electoral models of India and Bangladesh, which, he believed, were “strong enough to get their authority exercised”. In India, he said, every returning officer is assisted by two to four domestic observers who have absolute powers to take action against the candidates found in breaching the Indian election commission’s code of conduct.Dilshad quoted former Indian CEC Navin Chawla as having told him that the Election Commission of India would decide in 15 minutes on cases pertaining to the code of conduct violations. He also suggested setting up a monitoring committee comprising retired judges in every constituency to tackle the code of conduct violations.The ex-ECP boss said the election commission cannot take any action upon receiving the reports of foul play in any general election once its result is officially notified. “This has to change and that requires amendments in the electoral laws. The aggrieved candidates move courts for justice because ECP is powerless in this regard,” he said.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 01-Nov-2012 here.