Elections 2013: Islamabad candidates violate ECP rules during campaign

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 25, 2013.

Islamabad – It is still around two weeks before their fates will be sealed but candidates running for the National Assembly from the federal capital’s two constituencies have already started breaking rules.

The election campaigns run by various political parties and candidates in Islamabad have violated several clauses of the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the 2013 elections.

The Capital Development Authority’s Directorate of Municipal Administration (DMA) is working with the district returning officers to curb the violations, but they are struggling to keep up with the overzealous political workers, who have filled the city with banners, streamers, posters, stickers and notices.

In its latest efforts, the DMA has banned political parties and candidates from putting banners, which are other wise allowed by the ECP code of conduct with size restrictions, to preserve the “aesthetic beauty” of Islamabad.

According to the ECP code of conduct, candidates and their supporters are not allowed to put up party flags on public property without permission. They must refrain from using loudspeakers and wall chalking. The banners and posters must not exceed the sizes notified by the ECP and private property is not to be used without permission for political activities including displaying banners and posters.

But from street signs to shop fronts and even walls of residential buildings have been plastered with posters and flyers of different political parties.

Some residents, such as Tahir Farooq, a resident of F-6/1, seemed annoyed with the overt displays of unsolicited political activity.

“I got in a verbal fight with a political worker the other day,” Farooq said. “I don’t want the walls of my house to be covered with political posters and especially not the posters of candidates I do not support.”

The political workers, however, seem to be working after hours to get the message out.

“They usually come to put up the flyers when the shops are closed,” said Muhammad Faisal, a shopkeeper in the G-9 Markaz market, who had tried but failed to remove two posters from outside his garments shop. “Obviously, it creates a nuisance for the shopkeepers.”

Capital Development Authority (CDA) spokesperson Malik Saleem said the civic agency’s member administration Munir Ahmed Chaudhry met with representatives of various political party candidates on Tuesday to discuss the compliance of the ECP code

While Saleem said the representatives agreed to cooperate, a senior DMA official, who was privy to the meeting’s details, said the response of the representatives was not encouraging.

“They said emotions are running high at this time and even they cannot control the elections,” the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said.

CDA set up its own campaign compliant cell in the DMA at the beginning of April, with further guidelines such as informing roadside hoarding owners about ECP hoarding size regulations and allowing candidates only 15 days to advertise a specific location at a time.

The enforcement, however, has been only partially effective. The DMA has removed around 5,000 banners and oversized hoardings from the city streets. But, many banners can still be seen on the city roads.

“We cannot direct all our staff toward monitoring election campaigns and ignore other municipal by-law violations,” the DMA official said. “But we are trying our best.”

With the ban on banners, the candidates are allowed to put up streamers. The candidates have to first get permission for the streamers from the DMA.

According to statistics provided by the CDA, the DMA has so far given permission for 12,600 streamers altogether to 14 candidates from the two constituencies.

The permission for streamers is given only after an upfront payment at the rate of Rs60 per streamer, a DMA employee said. The CDA has collected Rs756,000 for the display of the streamers.

But DMA officials said the workers of these political parties were putting up posters illegally in excess of the permission granted by the DMA.

Meanwhile, the posters and banners are not the only irregularity.

Political parties have also set up their campaign offices on green belts, parking lots of markets and side walks, without seeking permission from CDA apparently.

DMA officials confirmed they had not given out any orders to allow the campaign offices to exist and Saleem implied the campaign offices were set up without approval.

“The representatives of the political candidates have been informed of the violations and they have said they will support the CDA in maintaining the beauty of Islamabad,” Saleem said.

Candidates of different political parties did not respond to attempts made to contact them.

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