The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has banned with immediate effect the diversion of funds from public departments, as well as recruitments in them. The ECP took this action following reports of the Prime Minister having diverted Rs 15 billion from 106 development projects to his own Gujjar Khan constituency as well as other parts of the country to win support for PPP candidates. This ban would remove two of the main tools used by candidates of the governing party, and also highlights one of the methods by which the ban is bypassed, a slight advancing of the doling out of funds and of jobs. The caretaker ministers being banned from contesting has helped solve this problem, but it seems that ruling-party legislators have merely used this tactic a little in advance of the elections. The ban placed by the ECP, even before the Assemblies have been dissolved, shows that they will not be allowed this particular electioneering method. The ECP has gone to this extent in the Prime Minister’s constituency, which is meant to set an example that abuses will not be tolerated no matter the personage. With the Prime Minister stopped from this time-honoured tactic, it will be easier to stop other ministers from misusing the resources they supervise.

It should not be forgotten that the Prime Minister’s constituency is particularly sensitive because it is by no means safe, with Raja Pervaiz Ashraf losing it more often than not. It was thus supposed to be an opportunity for him to use the powers of his office to shore it up, but the ECP has prevented him from doing so. The Information Minister’s reaction was that the government held the ECP in high esteem, but allegations had to be backed by evidence. At the same time, the ECP is not stopping development work, merely the abuse of diverting funds. Similarly, recruitments by the federal and provincial public service commissions are to continue. In short, the regular work of the state is to continue without interruption. What is to stop is the diversion of state resources to constituencies. Incidentally, this step would reduce the attraction of office, not just because it means that one cannot do favours in the constituency, but one cannot oblige fellow legislators left on the back benches.

While it is manifestly unfair that taxpayers’ money be devoted to private ends (getting someone elected), it is an entrenched practice. The ECP’s step deserves both appreciation and support. The election should be uninfluenced by what amounts to a bribe to the voters, and thus the ECP is preventing those who hold office, but who will soon be candidates, from giving voters inducements they would not get had they belonged to some other constituency. It is an unfortunate reality that holders of public office glory in their ability to do favours to their voters. It is another matter that the selection of such ‘electioneering projects’ leaves much to be desired, that there is embezzlement during their execution, while those recruited are not only creatures of their benefactor, but incompetent to boot.