–ECP plays down resolution moved by Balochistan Assembly and KP CM’s letter to commission that seek delay in elections
–PM Abbasi says neither opposition nor govt will allow any delay in elections
–Shehbaz Sharif, Liaquat Baloch say delayed polls detrimental to political stability, democracy
–Election watchdog issues code of conduct, restricts political parties of using abusive language during poll campaigns
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Despite calls from two provinces—Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa—for delaying the general elections 2018, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday reiterated that the polls will be held on schedule —July 25—and issued a code of conduct in this regard.
The ECP’s assurance comes on the heels of a resolution accepted by the Balochistan Assembly and a letter to the Commission by KP CM Pervez Khattak, seeking a delay in polls which had elicited a strong response from the political parties across the country.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, while speaking in the last session of the National Assembly on Thursday, strongly opposed any sort of delay in the polls.
In a reply to the calls for postponement of the general elections made by certain political quarters, the PM made it clear that neither the government nor the opposition would support any delay in the upcoming general elections.
“Not even a day’s delay will be acceptable,” he categorically stated, adding that “free and fair elections are necessary for democracy to flourish”.
Reacting to the resolution moved by Balochistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti, Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif said that resolution of the Balochistan Assembly for postponing the elections is not a good omen politically.
Talking to a delegation of Lahore Press Club (LPC) led by its President Azam Chaudhry which called on him here on Thursday, Shehbaz said that the democratic government is completing its tenure for the second time and delay in general elections is not in the interest of the nation.
The chief minister said that he does not agree with the resolution of Balochistan Assembly because timely elections are beneficial for democracy and the bright future of the country is linked with timely, impartial and transparent elections.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Liaquat Baloch also opposed postponement of elections and said that the polls must be held on July 25.
Talking to the media persons outside the ECP office, he said the resolution of any provincial assembly or the letter of any chief minister in this regard must be ignored and the election watchdog should ensure holding of elections on schedule.
Baloch, who is also the secretary general of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) further said there was confusion regarding the delimitation of constituencies and several cases were pending in the courts. He said this issue must be resolved well in time so that the polls could be held on time.
ECP ALLAYS CONCERNS WITH ISSUANCE OF CODE OF CONDUCT:
Following the reservations expressed over the statement of Khattak and Bugti, the ECP, in a bid to assuage the concerns, issued the code of conduct that is to be followed by “foreign observers”, polling staff and security officials who will be deployed during the upcoming general elections scheduled for July 25.
The code of conduct for foreign observers, who will oversee the polling process during the elections, comprises 14 points. Although Section 238 of the Elections Act 2017 grants freedom to any national or international organisation to observe the elections, ECP’s guidelines require them to obtain and display a permit from them.
The code of conduct orders the observers to identify themselves when asked by officials. It asks them to respect Pakistan’s integrity as well as basic rights and freedom of the public and to remain respectful towards people as well as the country’s tradition and culture and uphold professional standards.
Foreign observers are required to abide by Pakistan’s laws and respect ECP and its staff’s authority and to follow guidelines issued by the ECP and government institutions, including security officials and treat them with respect.
It asks them to remain politically impartial and not show bias for or against representatives of national institutions or political parties and not to indulge or participate in any activity that would give a positive or negative impression of any political party or its candidates.
They can ask any question regarding the elections without interrupting the polling process intentionally or unintentionally. They must ensure that their observations are unbiased, objective and factually correct and should not give their personal opinion about their inspection of the election process on any media outlet.
Observatory institutions and groups must ensure that only their nominated officials give their opinion on the election process. Observatory groups can share their inspection process, findings and recommendations with ECP.
All organisations that have requested a permit for their inspectors are to ensure that they communicate the electoral rules and regulations, as well as the code of conduct issued by ECP, to their representatives.
ECP also issued a code of conduct comprising of 13 points for its polling staff that requires them to be punctual and to perform their duties without any bias for or against any political party, electoral candidates, media outlets, inspectors or political parties’ representatives.
The rest of the guidelines ask the presiding officers to only obey orders issued by the district returning officers or returning officers.
The assisting presiding officers and polling staff must obey orders issued by the presiding officer while on duty and the polling staff must perform their duties in accordance with the law and remain in contact with their superiors at all times. If any official cannot perform their duties for any reason, they must inform their presiding officer without delay, who in turn will inform their returning officer.
Polling staff should not get involved in any political activity or campaign, nor will they show their personal preference or bias while performing their duties. Polling staff will not wear the electoral sign of any candidate nor will they wear a badge of any political party and will ensure the secrecy of the votes cast by the voters.
The presiding officer will ensure that the voting process is carried out smoothly. Polling staff will be courteous towards all voters and the assistants of differently-abled people. Polling staff will ensure that proper guidance and help is provided to elderly, transgender, pregnant women and differently-abled voters.
Polling staff, especially assistant presiding officers, will assist their presiding officers until the completion of election results and during the packing of voting equipment.
The ECP issued a separate code of conduct for the security officials deployed to ensure the election is carried out peacefully. The 11-point code of conduct binds them to perform their duty in accordance with the law and cooperate with the presiding officers, returning officers and polling staff.
The code orders the security officials to remain impartial during the voting process and not work for or against any political party or electoral candidate. They will be bound to obey all legal orders issued by the presiding and returning officers.
They will remain outside the premises of the polling station (where they have been deployed) or remain at a place where they have been ordered to perform their duties by the presiding officer.
They will not enter the premises of the polling station unless ordered by the presiding officer and will assist the presiding officer in maintaining or establishing peace at the polling station.
They will assist voters outside the polling station and ensure that they stand in line and will assist elderly, transgender, pregnant women and differently-abled voters as much as possible and will allow them to stand in front of the line.
They will ensure that the atmosphere outside the polling station is friendly and safe and voters can exercise their right to vote without any fear and confrontation. They will remain careful in the transportation of voting equipment, and ensure that all equipment and polling staff will arrive safely at the polling station.
They will further ensure that the equipment has been returned to presiding officers after voting ends and that the voting process concludes peacefully
Last week, President Mamnoon Hussain approved a summary sent by ECP recommending that the general elections be held on July 25. The polling for the national and provincial assemblies will be held on the same day.