ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday issued a revised code of conduct for the next general elections. For the first time, the president and the governors are barred from doing politics while of official visits, reported BBC on Thursday

The code of conduct says that the President and the governors should not make their official visits as instrument of political campaigning or to earn support for their party candidate in elections.

The code of conduct also includes certain directions for media. Media has been instructed not to announce unofficial results of elections.

Sikander Shaheen adds: Facing severe criticism on formulating overly idealistic and less practical draft code of conduct, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday announced that it ‘revised’ the said draft and sent it to the political parties, following serious reservations shown by the parties over the previous two such documents.

According to a press release, the electoral body has sent the revised draft of code of conduct to the major political parties ‘requesting’ them to share their input within two weeks.

In July this year, the commission had formulated the first draft of the code of conduct in pursuance of a related judgement from the Supreme Court that ordered the electoral body to take effective steps for ensuring free and fair polls. However, on account of evident loopholes in the said draft, the political parties categorically opposed it during a consultative session with the ECP in September.

Just a few days ago, the electoral body prepared another draft, an excessively lengthy document consisting of 49 points. It overlooked addressing some crucial electoral issues and received strong criticism from politicians and credible electoral experts.

The code of conduct’s ‘latest’ draft, which has been ‘reduced’ to 47 points but includes dozens of ‘additional features,’ could only be approved for implementation if agreed upon by the political parties. Like the previous one, the new draft also contains visible anomalies and lacks a mention of elections expenditure limit for national and provincial assemblies presently been fixed at 15,00,000 and 10,00,000 rupees respectively for each contestant as well as the required mechanism to stop pre-poll rigging before the announcement of electoral schedule.

Even the ECP’s press release issued Thursday remains marked with ambiguities and loopholes instead of explaining its perspective on a clear note. It mentions about a letter addressed to the heads of political parties intimating them about the revised code of conduct while unnecessarily specifying the portfolios of the party chiefs the letter is addressed to, including “presidents/ quaid/ ameer and general secretaries.” On the other hand, there is no mention of the chairman portfolio given that the heads of several political parties, including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), hold chairman’s position as party chief.

Furthermore, the election commission’s statement ‘requests’ “all the political parties to send their comments within two weeks to this commission and in case no comments are received from parties, it will be assumed that they have agreed with the draft code of conduct,” whereas no exact date is specified as deadline in this regard.

Months ago, the election commission had announced that the code of conduct would officially come into effect following consensus between the electoral body and political parties over the same but it unilaterally proceeded to ‘implement’ the code of conduct in the by-polls despite that the code did not have any official standing. It was only after the political bigwigs kept brazenly breaching the so-called code of conduct during the by-polls which triggered enormous criticism that the ECP had to admit that the code of conduct did not have any legal standing and it was ‘applied’ in the by-polls on ‘test case’ bases. “We have conducted the recent by-polls under the newly proposed code of conduct on test case bases. The code of conduct would not be notified without mutual agreement between the ECP and political parties,” Additional Secretary ECP Afzal Khan had said during National Voters Day celebrated on October 17.  

Talking to TheNation, Member National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Mehreen Anwar Raja said, “We have pertinent reservations over these drafts that the ECP keeps preparing one after another without even getting our input. We will take up this issue in the consultative meetings,” she said referring to the ECP’s ‘revision’ of the draft just over a week after it had released the previous draft on October 31.

Overwhelmingly ambitious in its outlook, the new draft, like the previous ones, sets ‘strict’ rules to be followed by the candidates/ political parties and their voters during the polls despite the commission helplessness in taking up the cases of electoral foul play involving pre-poll rigging or post-poll scenario; before the announcement of elections schedule in any constituency or after the electoral results in any constituency were notified.

The nine previous code of conducts formulated ahead of respective polls have proved to be a total failure.

In the last consultative meeting between the ECP and the political parties held in September, President Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had categorically opposed the election commission’s proposal to declare null-and-void the results at any women polling station that had less than ten percent of the voters’ turnout. Hussain had argued that the trend of low turnout at the women polling stations was generally prevalent across Pakistan and given the security scenario and linked factors, implementing such a proposal was not a feasible option. This provision is not included in the ECP craft code of conduct for implementation since it requires legislation, not done so far.