ISLAMABAD - Concluding its pre-election assessment mission in NA-151 a day before polling, PILDAT’s Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP) has said that the new directive of the ECP relating to curtailing election spending was only partially enforced in the by-election.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of clarity of the staff of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the ground on what constitutes election expenses. While the ECP officials were satisfied with the weekly bank statements they said they received from candidates as per new directions by the ECP. They failed to monitor election expenses incurred by candidates’ supporters in holding election rallies, placing newspaper advertisements, and other promotional material, the Citizen Group has said in its assessment report.
The report says that Article 49-1 of the Representation of Peoples Act 1976 states that expenses incurred on election by any person other than the candidate for “any ...item whatsoever, .... shall be deemed to be the election expenses incurred by the candidate himself.” The elaborate monitoring system and monitoring teams put in place by the ECP failed to monetarily evaluate supporters’ contributions that has resulted into candidates flouting the legal expense limit of 1.5 million. “From newspaper reports, advertisements and witnessing jalsas of the candidates, it appears that the candidates have spent much more than the expense limit, that the ECP must take action against,” recommended the Group.
Although the ECP’s monitoring arrangements are praiseworthy in terms of providing transport to voters in 29 out of 245 polling stations in NA-151 where distance to polling station is more than 2 kilometers, CGEP shared its apprehensiveness in the ECP’s ability to provide transport to all voters of different camps in a non- partisan manner. “This will be a cause of complaints by each candidate to the ECP,” the Group felt. A more practical approach to limit the use of transport by candidates to bring voters to polling stations will be to increase the number of polling stations, the Group opined. The Group witnessed violation of the ECP code of conduct in banners, hoardings and wall chalking across NA-151. Even though the ECP monitoring teams have managed to remove such violations putting them on tape also, it has failed to bring to the book any violators of the ECP code and directive.
Non-partisanship of the local administration, technically, under the Punjab provincial government, is the key to ensuring a free and fair conduct of the polling tomorrow, the Group felt.
During the two-day fact finding mission to Multan, the Group held meetings and interactions with Mr. Abdul Qadir Gilani, PPP candidate and Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, former Prime Minister, Mr. Sikandar Hayat Bosan, an other independent candidate, Commissioner as well as DCO of Multan, district returning officer, returning officer and the ECP-appointed Monitoring Teams. In addition, the Group held detailed interactions with the resident editors and representatives of major newspapers and tv channels. The Group also went around the constituency monitoring public meetings by the candidates.
The Citizens Group members joining the mission included Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider, former interior minister and governor, Justice (Retd.) Nasira Iqbal, former judge, Ghazi Salahuddin, senior journalist, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director PILDAT, Ms Aasiya Riaz, joint director PILDAT and Mr. Mamoon Bilal, projects manager PILDAT.
The fact finding mission was undertaken by PILDAT to monitor the implementation of the new ECP directives. The PILDAT initiative is part of the project to monitor the implementation of the 5- year Strategic Plan of the ECP.