The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has, after a considerable silence, revealed the verdict on Nawaz Sharif’s ‘Farmer Package’ before the upcoming Local Government election in Sindh and Punjab, calling it a gross violation of ECP code of conduct.

The PML-N is now facing trouble. The ECP has summoned both the Food and Agriculture, and Information secretaries to answer for it. The contention is simple, and sensible; the government is not allowed to announce ‘uplifting schemes or policies’ after the announcement of the LG Schedule, since doing so would allow it to sway voter preferences by providing monetary incentives. This ECP, having given this opinion in a non-judicial setting is in no place to dole out punishment, but it must initiate some punitive measures if its code of conduct is ever going to be taken seriously.

The Prime Minister’s announcement of an Rs 341 Billion fund aimed at providing relief to farmers was met with widespread criticism from opposition parties – and with good cause. An economic policy for agriculture would have otherwise been highly commendable, but the timing and the structure of the present policy make it seem suspiciously like bribery, and thinly disguised election fraud. The fund will enable the farmers’ community to receive the money in grants, subsidies and loan advances from the government – all under their discretionary power instead of an explicitly elucidated criterion, which is administered by a neutral body. Even if it provides relief to some genuinely deserving farmers, the method is wrong, throwing cash at a problem until it disappears is ad hoc at best, and short-sighted at worst. The only achievement this policy will have would be to reward PML-N sympathisers and to cajole the ones who are not.

The verdict from the ECP must not be left as it is, the package must be withdrawn and any candidate using it to garner votes must be punished.