Islamabad – Only one out of the 72 Islamabad candidates contesting National Assembly elections has submitted details of his election campaign spending, according to the election authorities.
The remaining Islamabad candidates have failed to report their campaign expenses to the Returning Officers and stand in violation of the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Section 13 of the ECP’s code of conduct for politcal parties and candidates states that after the publication of the final list of candidates, each contestant shall submit a fortnightly statement of expenses incurred during the election campaign to the relevant Returning Officer.
The ECP posted the final list of candidates on its website on 4 July, which means candidates should have submitted their campaign expenses to the Returning Officers at least once by now.
Despite the requirement, only the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal’s candidate Mian Aslam has submitted details of campaign spending, according to the Returning Officers’ staff at the district courts. The Returning Officers refused to make the details of Mr. Aslam’s campaign expenses public.
Mr. Aslam is contesting elections from NA-53 and NA-54 in the capital.
Alongside Mr. Aslam, the National Assembly seats from Islamabad are being contested by several political heavy-weights including PTI’s Imran Khan and Asad Umar and PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan’s former prime minister.
Since the formal start of the campaigning, the capital has witnessed scores of rallies and corner meetings of different political parties and candidates. Election offices and camps have also been set up in different sectors of Islamabad.
Similarly, the Islamabad candidates have decorated the entire city with their banners, hoardings, streamers, and posters. The Islamabad Capital Territory administration reported removing 30,000 of illegal promotional material due to violations of the ECP code of conduct.
Amid such extragavant displays in the political campaigns, the details of the spending are required to determine whether the Islamabad candidates have exceeded the spending limits prescribed by the Elections Act 2017 or not.
According to the Act, a candidate’s campaign expenses for the National Assembly elections should not exceed beyond Rs. 4 million and the spending for provincial assembly seats should remain within Rs. 2 million.
The candidates are instructed to open a separate bank account for election expenses and use of other accounts is considered illegal.
An Islamabad election official said the requirement for campaign finance reporting during the campaign period is included in the code of conduct but there is no legal support for it in the Elections Act 2017.
“Due to the lack of legal support in the Act, the Returning Officers do not proactively seek campaign expenses or act against violations,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want his opinion to undermine the reputation of his office.
Chaudhry Nadeem Qasim, Director Elections ECP, accepted that there was indeed no support for fortnightly campaign finances in the Act. He said the requirement for submission of election expenses was added to the code upon review.
“The Supreme Court of Pakistan added a few good points after reviewing the ECP code of conduct,” Mr. Qasim said. “The reporting of campaign expenses was one of these points.”
This “absolutely does not mean” it is fine to violate the code of conduct, Mr. Qasim said.
Candidates will still be responsible to submit their campaign finance details after polling day.
Section 134 of the Elections Act 2017 states that the losing candidates need to submit the details of their election expenses within 30 days of the publication of the name of the winner.
The winning candidates needs to submit their total election expenses to their Returning Officers within 10 days of polling, according to the ECP code of conduct.
The Act dictates that the ECP shall scrutinise the campaign expenses within 90 days of submission. If the ECP finds that a candidate violated the campaign finance rules, it can file a complaint against the candidate in an election tribunal on the charges of committing a corrupt practice.
If the tribunal finds the candidate guilty, the candidate’s election victory can be declared null and void.