The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has notified a new set of rules that political parties and candidates would have to follow when participating in the national and provincial elections in the future. The code of conduct is fairly comprehensive and comes into effect soon. Thus, it will also be applicable to the by-election to be held in Multan next month. It has been prepared in pursuance of the Supreme Court order advising the ECP to regulate different aspects of the electoral process so as to ensure it is conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner in accordance with law. The code prescribes rules with regard to the maximum limit of expenditure that a candidate could incur to promote his bid for election. It regulates the use of transport, loudspeakers and the affixing of banners and posters, the holding of meetings by political parties, candidates, their agents and supporters, etc. Punishment of Rs 5,000 and three years imprisonment has been prescribed for the violators.

Hopefully, as the new code restricts the total expenditure to be incurred on contesting polls, markedly bringing it down from the present maximum limit, it would induce educated and fair-minded persons belonging to the middle and lower middle classes or, in certain cases, even those having ordinary means to put up their candidatures. New faces, so badly needed in our system that reeks of rank incompetence and corruption, might find the electoral atmosphere quite competitive, if the code is strictly applied. That the present upper limit of Rs five million and Rs three million for a National and Provincial Assembly candidate respectively has been slashed to Rs 1.5 million and Rs one million is a refreshing development, which should contribute to changing the complexion of these vital parliamentary institutions for the good of the people.

Most of the other conditions under the code revolve around, in one way or the other, the expense factor: whether it is the banning of the use of vehicles for transporting voters to the polling booths, and setting up of camps near these booths; restricting the use of loudspeakers only to public meetings; imposing severe restrictions on taking out car rallies; limiting the size of hoardings, posters and banners, etc. Wall chalking that have invariably marked electioneering in the country turn cities and towns into an ugly, forbidding sight. By disallowing it, the ECP has helped keep the look, not so inviting generally, from worsening. It remains to be seen whether the ECP will meet with any success in having it thorough and voluminous set of rules followed by the candidates.

However, the fundamental logic of holding elections i.e. to elicit the people’s verdict about who should run the affairs of the state, cannot be realised unless the electoral rolls are up to date, contain only eligible voters and are completely shorn of bogus voters. That task lies pending with the ECP despite the Supreme Court’s repeated reminders and strictures. To keep the voters’ list ready, complete and up to date is a constitutional responsibility of the ECP. It must hurry up on this count, which is a crucial determinant in electing true representatives of the people.