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Pak polls on Jan 8; no limit on spending
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

General elections in Pakistan would be held on January 8, the Election Comission announced on Monday and approved a code of conduct removing all limits on election spending by the candidates.

The code was finalised at a meeting of the commission which was boycotted by all major opposition parties, including PPP, MMA, PML-N, PTI, ANP and others. They accused the commission of lacking any independence or impartiality and slavishly following directives from the President. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), and some allied parties attended the meeting.

Chief election commissioner Qazi Mohammad Farooq told reporters that election schedule would be announced on Tuesday. Elections for national and provincial assemblies would be held on the same day.

The commission also issued notices to the leadership of the PML to respond allegations of misconduct by carrying out a smear campaign by former premier and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto in the media. It had earlier stopped the campaign.

He rejected demand for suspending the powers of local governments during the run up to the elections saying the commission has no such authority. He said the commission can take individual notice if any complaint was lodged against any nazim or mayor violates rules and the code.

The commission removed restriction on speeches against foreign countries and their leaders but retained curbs on criticism of the armed forces and the judiciary.

Political parties and candidates would have to give 24-hour prior notice to the administration for any public meeting.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain demanded that international monitors be invited to observe the elections and asked to consult all political parties before submitting their reports.

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