ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has barred party heads from conducting election campaign aimed at providing level playing field to all contestants, its officials said on Sunday.

The ECP has barred MNAs, MPAs, ministers, prime minister, president, chief ministers, advisers to PM and all other public office holders from campaigning for their respective candidates ahead of by-polls in three constituencies in Punjab.

The ban on election campaign for the public office holders has been put under article 26 of the codes of conduct for political parties in order to ensure free and transparent by-elections in NA-122, NA-154 and PP-16 Attock.

On Sunday, Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan criticised the ECP for formulating the rules that stop party heads from boosting election campaign for their candidates.

Interestingly, it was PTI’s petitioner (Mansoor Sarwar Khan) who had moved the court against the participation of ministers in election campaign in order to disconnect support to rival candidates during elections. The PTI candidates had moved Lahore High Court (LHC) three months back seeking ban on MNAs, MPAs, PM, president and chief ministers during election campaign.

Imran said his party would approach the ECP to allow him to run campaign for his candidate in by-election. However, the PTI chief already violated the law by kicking off his campaign for his party’s candidate Aleem Khan in NA-122. A spokesman for ECP said the commission fought a legal battle in the Supreme Court and restored the sections and clauses that seek ban on participation of parliamentarians in poll campaigns once election schedule is announced.

With less than three weeks left for the by-polls in NA-122 and NA-154, the ECP, three days back, had asked political parties and public office holders to follow the directives and refrain from taking part in campaign after issuance of schedule.

“Imran should respect the law and the verdicts of apex court that supported ECP’s stance on restricting the parliamentarians from poll campaign. There would be no relaxation for a specific party head. All should follow the rules,” he added.

As October 11 has been fixed as polling day on two key National Assembly constituencies — NA-122, NA-154 - the ECP has also made it clear that no lawmaker, including president and prime minister can announce uplift package for the constituency where by-polls are held. The ECP had issued election schedule for NA-122 and NA-154 on August 31 during which the case about party MNAs or government ministers’ participation in polls campaign was under trial in the Supreme Court.

However, the apex court after modifying some sections in code of conduct prepared by ECP retained the clauses that bar president, prime minister, ministers, MNAs, MPAs or any other public office holders from campaigning in favour of their respective aspirants.

The decision will affect opposition parties contesting the polls particularly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as the party’s leadership has to abide by the rules, hence its candidates would strive hard to boost campaigns independently. Political observers believe that since the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) was in power both at centre and in Punjab, its candidates would continue to get covert support from party’s leadership and administration.

Although the ECP has made it clear that public office holders should not announce development package, donation or any secret funds for the constituencies, officials said there was no agency that could check the activity. The commission said that lawmakers could not visit the areas until the conclusion of by-polls, warning strict action against those who would violate the rules.

Politicians believe that the logic behind barring politicians (MNAs or MPAs) from taking part in election process was beyond anybody’s guess as it was democracy to openly campaign for respective candidates. The code of conduct even discourages area’s MNA from visiting the constituency once election schedule is announced, the clause ECP officials also object to. Although they agree that funds should not be provided to a constituency where by-polls are held, yet they disapprove the ban on visit of lawmakers to the area.