ISLAMABAD: Top leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have put themselves in a spot by actively campaigning for their party colleagues.
On Sunday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced an inquiry would be held against Premier Nawaz Sharif and other top leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for alleged violations of the code of conduct prior to the NA-122 by-elections.
The decision comes on a complaint filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, whose information secretary had written a letter to the ECP chief, lodging a strong protest against the “continuous violations of electoral laws” by the leadership of PML-N, including PM Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister, for campaigning before the by-polls.
Briefing the media at the ECP headquarters after the completion of the electoral process on Sunday, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob said the authority would examine the complaints filed by the PTI. However, he did not share any other details of the mode or time duration of the inquiry.
The PTI had also alleged biasness on the part of ECP’s Punjab member Justice Riaz Kayani. “While we have absolutely no confidence in his perceived impartiality, we expect you to intervene, prevent and punish all those violations designed to influence the voter’s mind after the campaign has stopped,” stated said the letter written to the Chief Election Commissioner hours before polling started in NA-122.
The ECP secretary said the commission received some 30 to 35 minor complaints from NA-122 that were immediately addressed. “We deployed our own officers and didn’t request the federal or provincial governments for such cooperation,” Yaqoob said. For transparency, officers from Bannu, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were deputed as returning officers and district returning officers in Lahore and Okara, respectively.
The commission declared the entire election process was transparent and remained peaceful under the supervision of the armed forces.
The poll supervisory body is upset over the continuous interference of the judiciary in its affairs, senior ECP officers have confided with The Express Tribune.
An official said the commission was becoming increasingly desperate over the superior courts’ rulings against its decisions in the past three years.
“The ECP consists of five retired judges of superior courts but its decisions are revised by one high court judge, whose experience is less than any ECP member,” he complained. “The commission feels that only the Supreme Court should have the appellant authority against the ECP’s decisions.”
The poll body also forms tribunals to decide complaints of rigging. Their decisions can only be appealed in the apex court. The ECP has hired a number of senior lawyers to contest different cases in different courts.
Former additional attorney general Tariq Mahmood Khokhar said the high courts’ jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution to review the ECP decisions could not be curtailed through administrative orders or it would have profound repercussions.
Khokhar recommended, however, that a high court chief justice should pass an administrative order, asking a review of ECP decisions by a larger bench consisting of six judges.
Legal experts recommend the Supreme Court should give guidelines to the higher courts to review such decisions.
Another senior ECP official alleged that former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had encroached upon the commission’s powers through several orders.
Before his retirement when legislation for local governments (LG) was not even completed, Chaudhry had forced the authority to give an election schedule, which had to be revised later. Even then, when the ECP announced the schedule for LG elections in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Lahore and Sindh high courts revoked the delimitation process.
The top electoral body is also upset with the suspension of its code of conduct by the Lahore High Court. The commission had barred the prime minister and other parliamentarians from taking part in election campaigns. The ECP has appealed the verdict in the apex court and the hearing is scheduled for October 13.
On the same day, the Islamabad High Court will take up the federal government’s plea against the suspension by the top electoral body of a relief package for farmers announced by the PM.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2015.