Hamza Shahbaz's counsel says relief package announced for whole of Punjab not for specific constituencies
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday suspended the “Punjab Chief Minister Roshan Gharana Programme” — a relief package for the household using up to 100 units of electricity —announced by Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz till the by-polls on July 17.
A three-member bench of the ECP headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja issued the order after hearing arguments from the Punjab chief minister.
The Election Commission had issued a notice to Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, seeking his reply for his alleged violation of the electoral code of conduct by announcing free electricity for a specific group of consumers in the province ahead of the July 17 by-elections.
The electoral watchdog had sought a reply from the provincial chief executive on July 7.
The relief package, announced just a few days ahead of by-elections on 20 provincial assembly seats in Punjab, was criticised by the PTI, which had sought the apex court’s intervention into the matter as well.
During the course of the proceedings today, Punjab CM Hamza Shahbaz’s counsel argued that the “Roshan Gharana Programme” will benefit over 9 million people across the province, adding that the relief package is not for just those areas where by-polls are being held.
Rejecting the objections over the relief package, the lawyer said, “It is not a new project, the programme is included in the approved budget.”
“Rs100 billion were allocated for the programme in the budget. At that time, our moto was not attracting voters,” he argued.
He asked, “if the government reduces petrol prices on July 15, will it be a political decision?”
At this, the chief election commissioner asked if you allocated the amount for the programme in the budget then why did you hold a separate press conference to announce the package.
The ECP is bound to give equal opportunities to all the candidates to contest the elections, remarked the CEC.
On his part, DG Law said that there was no need to announce the programme if it was included in the budget. “The ECP has banned the announcement of any development scheme [ahead of the by-polls in the province],” he said, adding that the programme directly affected the upcoming elections in the province.
During the hearing, the CEC made it clear to the Punjab government that any violation of the code of conduct set by the election body will not be tolerated. He remarked that the new development projects could not be announced ahead of the by-polls.
“Misleading propaganda is being spread against the ECP by the different quarts”, he said, adding that they reject the “irresponsible speech and propaganda”.
He maintained that the by-polls will be free and transparent, adding that personnel of Rangers and the army will be deployed at the polling stations during the upcoming elections.
He advised the Punjab government to launch the programme after the by-elections.
In the notice over violation of the code of conduct for the electoral exercise, the ECP had asked Hamza Shehbaz to appear before it in person or through his counsel on July 7.
The notice read: “Take notice and be informed that the Election Commission of Pakistan has announced a schedule for by-elections in 20 constituencies of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab and the poll is scheduled to be held on July 17.”
It said the commission had issued a code of conduct on May 25 to provide a level-playing field to all the contesting candidates and political parties. Directives were issued also that no government functionary or elected representative, including a local government functionary or elected representative, shall announce any development scheme for the constituencies, where by-elections are under process till July 17.
The relief programme supposed to benefit an estimated nine million poor families, about half of the population of the province, had been announced by the Punjab chief minister while speaking at a press conference on Monday.
The chief minister had termed it the largest relief package in the history of Pakistan for providing relief to the downtrodden, saying that free electricity would be provided to all the consumers of the province using up to 100 units a month.
About half of the population of the province will be provided free electricity from this month and the Punjab government will pay their bills in August.