Pakistan News

SC bars govt leaders from poll campaigning

SC bars govt leaders from poll campaigning

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and members of their cabinet will not be able to campaign for their candidates in the upcoming important by-elections for two National Assembly seats, one in Lahore and the other in Lodhran, as the Supreme Court restored on Tuesday the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to its original form.

A clause in the code of conduct barring holders of public office from taking part in election campaigns for their candidates was recently struck down by the Lahore High Court (LHC), on a petition filed by a PTI leader, but the decision was challenged by the ECP in the Supreme Court.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, set aside the LHC’s verdict two days prior to the submission of nomination papers by candidates for the by-elections in the two constituencies.

The NA-122 (Lahore) seat had been won by the then speaker of the National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who was deseated by an election tribunal and the NA-154 seat by Muhammad Siddique Khan of PML-N, who was disqualified by another election tribunal. Polling in both constituencies will be held on Oct 11.

The counsel for the ECP argued before the Supreme Court that the code of conduct had been announced by the commission in line with a judgment of the Supreme Court. He said the code had been formulated on the basis of the Constitution and the Representation of People Act, 1976.

He said it was the mandate of the ECP to conduct free, fair and transparent elections, and pleaded that the LHC’s verdict striking down a key component of the code be declared void.

The ECP recently rejected the objection raised by PTI over visits of key federal government functionaries to Mansehra for campaigning in favour of the PML-N candidate and pointed out that it was the PTI which had challenged the bar on public office holders.

Mansoor Sarwar Khan, PTI’s central Punjab President, had questioned the barring of PTI Chairman Imran Khan from canvassing in by-elections in Punjab at that time.

The ECP code of conduct had prohibited federal and provincial lawmakers from visiting areas where by-polls were being held, after the issuance of the election schedule.

LHC judge Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah had ruled that the ECP could not limit a political activity or make a political party dysfunctional by putting restrictions on the movement of its leaders or members because such freedom is grounded in fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

“The clause that imposes restriction on public office holders not to visit the constituencies where by-elections are being held is declared to be unconstitutional and illegal and, therefore, struck down,” the judge wrote.

The judgment said that holders of public offices, like the prime minister, chief minister, federal ministers, ministers of state and advisers to the president, belong to political parties.

“They are not in the service of Pakistan,” the judgment said. “Hence they are free to attend to their political obligations and are fully entitled to the fundamental right guaranteed to them under Article 17(2). A political party has to freely conduct electioneering, canvassing and the electoral campaign,” the LHC judgment said.

Meanwhile, the ECP has extended the date for issuing party tickets to candidates for the first phase of local government elections in Punjab and Sindh from Sept 11 to Sept 30.

The request for extension in time was made by Punjab Minister for Local Govern­ment Rana Sanaullah during a recent meeting with ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad.

The ECP also de-notified Muhammad Arif Chaudhry of PML-N as MNA from NA-144, Okara, with effect from Aug 21.

Arif Chaudhry had been disqualified by an election tribunal of Multan on Aug 21 for possessing a fake degree, on an election petition filed by independent candidate Fayyaz Ghouri.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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