ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national election oversight body has forbidden political parties, contesting candidates and polling agents from propagating materials and opinions that defame or ridicule government institutions like the judiciary and army, a draft code of conduct seen by Arab News on Monday said.
The Election Commission of Pakistan announced earlier this month the vote, originally expected in November and then scheduled for the last week of January, would instead take place on Feb. 8, a date chosen following consultations with the country’s President Dr. Arif Alvi that were requested by the Supreme Court.
The announcement came amid widespread fears, including by Pakistan’s imprisoned former premier and top opposition leader Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is a strong contender in the race, that the vote could be delayed indefinitely.
Khan himself is not eligible to run because of a corruption sentence for which he is serving three years in jail since August. He also faces scores of legal cases on myriad charges, including revealing state secrets, treason against the state, incitement to violence and terrorism. The charges were levelled under the government of Khan’s successor and top rival, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“The political parties, contesting candidates and election agents shall not propagate any opinion, or act in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality or public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule any Government institution including the judiciary and the Armed Forces of Pakistan,” the ECP said in a draft code of conduct seen by Arab News.
ECP officials told Arab News the document had been shared with political parties and the final version would be issued in a week.
A major uptick in militancy in Pakistan in recent months has stoked fears of violence at political rallies that can draw tens of thousands of people in the country of over 230 million.
A report published by the Islamabad-based independent Center for Research and Security Studies in September said at least 700 security officials and militants had been killed in Pakistan in the first nine months of the year. Scores more have been killed since in attacks across the country.
“The political parties, contesting candidates, election agents and their supporters shall extend cooperation to law enforcement agencies for ensuring the safety and security of election material, election officials and polling agents on polling day,” the ECP draft code of conduct said.
“Incitement to violence or resort to violence during pre-poll campaign or during polling hours shall be strictly avoided by contesting candidates and their supporters. They shall publicly condemn violence and intimidation and not use language that might lead to violence or resort to violence. No person shall in any manner cause injury to any person or damage to any property.”
The document also said political parties, candidates and election agents should “firmly restrain their workers from exerting undue pressure against the print and electronic media,
including newspapers’ offices and printing presses, or resorting to violence of any kind against the media.”