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Sunday February 05, 2023

Re-election campaign in Lahore, Lodhran to be lifeless

Party leaders, ministers, MPs barred from canvassing

September 18, 2015
ISLAMABAD: The campaign for October 11 high-profile by-elections in Lahore and Lodhran will remain localised, lacklustre, as all top leaders including the prime minister, the Punjab chief minister, their cabinet members and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan are legally banned from canvassing for their horses in any way.
In view of this bar, no big election rally seems on the cards as people will not be attracted to such events due to the absence of the senior leaders, who pull crowds. However, small public, corner meetings, which are already underway, will continue with the polling just 24 days away.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is determined to ensure that the embargo is strictly enforced regardless of the stature and standing of the political leaders in their own parties or in public at large.
The prohibition will obviously deprive former Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Aleem Khan, Jehangir Tareen and another contestant of the big boost that their electioneering might have received had the rallies been addressed by their political bosses.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan is not allowed to campaign for Aleem Khan and Jehangir Tareen for being a member of the National Assembly (MNA) as all the federal and provincial legislators face this bar under a clause of the election code.
The legal ban is not specific to the present by-elections, but it was applicable to all previous by-polls except for some time when this ban stood struck down by the Lahore High Court (LHC).
The clause, restored by the Supreme Court a few days back, says after the issuance of by-election schedule, the president, prime minister, chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, speakers of assemblies, federal and provincial ministers, ministers of state, governors, chief ministers and advisors to the premier and chief minister, federal and provincial lawmakers, and other public office holders will neither visit any constituency nor shall openly or in secret give

any subscription or donation or make promise for giving such subscription or donation to any institution, nor shall inaugurate, commit to undertake or announce any development project for the advancement of the campaign of a candidate of his choice to influence poll results.
They and any person on their behalf will not visit the constituency or a polling station after the issuance of the election schedule till the completion of poll. All these figures had been permitted to fully canvass for their candidates when a clause providing for the prohibition was shot down by the LHC some two months back on a petition filed by Mansoor Sarwar, advocate, President of the central region Punjab of the PTI.
However, the ECP went into appeal against the LHC decision, and the Supreme Court suspended its operation on September 8, reviving the clause that had imposed the restriction.
LHC judge Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah had held that the ECP cannot limit political activity or make a political party dysfunctional by putting restrictions on the movement of its leaders or members because such a freedom is grounded in constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. The public office holders like the prime minister, chief ministers, federal ministers, ministers of state and advisors to the president also wear a political hat and belong to a political party, the judgment said.
They are not in the service of Pakistan, it said. Hence they are free to attend to their political obligations of running a political party and are fully entitled to the guaranteed fundamental right. A political party has to freely conduct electioneering, canvassing and the electoral campaign.
This political activism, the judgment said, is the foundation of modern parliamentary democracy and cannot be restricted by the ECP. The issue of abuse of public office and public funds on a case-to-case basis can be easily addressed under the Representation of People Act, and the law will take its own course, when any such violation takes place.
In an open political space and a vigilant media, such violations cannot remain hidden and are likely to be immediately highlighted by the opposing parties, the ruling said. Therefore, to restrict the party leaders and workers or any public office holders to visit a constituency during electioneering offends the fundamental rights.
Mansoor Sarwar had disputed the bar on Imran Khan to canvass in the by-elections then being held in Punjab and contended that it is integral to an electoral campaign that the party leaders visit the constituencies, address the electorate and meet the party workers. He argued that the ECP code stifled the electioneering plans of the political party by curbing its activism, which is a core value of any parliamentary democracy. The federal government lawyer had readily agreed with the contentions raised by Mansoor Sarwar and added that physical movement of the political leaders cannot be restrained and they cannot be barred from visiting constituencies during a poll campaign.

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