ISLAMABAD - In order to conduct free, fair and transparent elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday approved a draft bill for electoral reforms to be sent to parliament for legislation, as it approved a new code of conduct according to which the president of Pakistan will not be allowed to participate in any election campaign.
All public office-holders, including the prime minister, ministers and others were earlier not allowed to participate in election campaigns, however, for the first time ever, the ECP has also restrained the president and the governors from participating in the election campaigns. “The president cannot participate in election campaign in any manner whatsoever,” read the newly-approved code of conduct.
Earlier, a meeting of the ECP chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim approved the draft of electoral reforms, proposing effective legislation to curb rigging in the upcoming general elections and ensuring transparency and credibility of the polls.
Addressing a press conference later, Elections Director General Sher Afghan said the ECP had approved an increase in the monetary penalties for illegal and corrupt practices in the proposed bill, while it had also called for an increase in the nomination fees for candidates for the National and provincial assemblies. He said the commission decided to increase the nomination fee from Rs 4,000 to Rs 50,000 for National Assembly candidates and from Rs 2,000 to Rs 25,000 for provincial assembly candidates.
The Special Committee of the Senate on Election Issues has already agreed to the proposal and it would now be sent to parliament for simple legislation. The ECP also decided to increase the monetary fines for corrupt practices from Rs 5,000 to Rs 100,000. These practices included impersonation, capturing of polling stations, bribing voters and election staff and intimidation. Prison sentences for such violations would continue to be three years. Afghan said fines for illegal practices inside the polling stations jurisdiction had been proposed to be increased from Rs 5,000 to Rs 100,000, adding that another proposal had also been adopted to make the official code of conduct part of the Representation of the Peoples Act.
The candidates would have to face a penalty of Rs 100,000 for violating provisions of the code, such as holding processions and posting banners, posters and billboards, he added.
He said the ECP had also approved registration of 11 new political parties, while elections symbols had been allotted to 16 parties that were already registered, including the party of the renowned nuclear scientist, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. The elections DG said the ECP meeting also discussed the issue of dual nationality holders and noted that 12 dual nationality-holders had already been disqualified while 16 had resigned. He said the ECP would share the status of dual nationality-holders with the Supreme Court (SC).
About the SC’s directives to the ECP for electoral reforms, he said in the Awami Worker Party case, the SC had suggested the ECP to carry out a few reforms in the electoral system. However, for bringing those reforms, proper legislation was required, adding that the commission had decided to send the reforms package to the Law Ministry for legislation. Regarding a letter by Abid Hassan Minto about implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision, he said the commission discussed Minto’s proposals, which included compulsory voting, clear majority formula and the none-of-the-above (NOTA) mechanism in vote casting. To a query, he said the commission had also discussed the issue of fake degree-holders in detail and decided that all sessions judges would be asked to expedite the proceedings and decide the matter before the commencement of the next general elections.