ISLAMABAD: The sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of over 4,000 candidates who contested the 2018 general elections but failed to meet the legal requirement of submitting details of election expenses to the returning officers concerned even after the stipulated time frame to do so.
Sources told Dawn that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has designated the district election commissioners (DECs) concerned as authorised officers to file criminal cases against all such candidates with the district and sessions judges seeking legal action for commission of an illegal practice.
The sources said that the offence of illegal practice may entail the maximum penalty of up to two-year imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs100,000.
He said under Section 134 of the Elections Act, a contesting candidate other than the winner is required to submit to the returning officer the returns of his or her election expenses on Form C, within 30 days of the publication of names of returned candidates. He pointed out that under Section 175 (I) a person is guilty of the offence of illegal practice, if he or she fails to comply with Section 134 relating to election expenses.
Section 183 of the Elections Act reads, “A person guilty of the offence of illegal practice shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees or with both”.
Under Section 136 of the Elections Act, a returning officer is required to issue a notice to the candidates who fail to file requisite returns within the specified period, calling upon them to show cause why proceedings may not be initiated against them. If they do not comply with the provisions of Section 134 despite notices, the returning officers are required to report the matter to the ECP.
On receipt of a report, the ECP is required to issue notices calling upon the candidates to show cause as to why a complaint may not be filed against them for failure to file requisite returns.
Under the law, the candidate may file an application seeking to condone delay in filing the returns along with the return and the ECP may condone the delay, if it is satisfied that such failure was made in good faith due to circumstances beyond the control of the candidate concerned, and accept the return.
The sources told Dawn that after completion of the entire procedure involving issuance of three notices by the ECP action would be taken against over 4,000 candidates across the country who have yet to file details of their election expenses.
They said letters have been issued to the district election commissioners to file complaints against all such candidates after thoroughly going through their own as well as concerned returning officer’s record and file complaints against those in default.
The ECP has asked the DECs to spare those who submit the returns before filing of complaints against them. The DECs have also been sent a specimen for registration of complaints with the district and session judges.
The respondent has prima facie under the circumstances committed an illegal practice by not submitting the requisite returns, hence he is liable to be proceeded against under the aforesaid sections of the Act….”, the draft complaint reads. It seeks registration of a complaint against those who failed to make it for further course of action for its disposal in accordance with the Elections Act, 2017.