Amid calls for holding elections within the 90-day stipulated time, a senior official at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ruled out the possibility of polls in the constitutionally mandated period even if the delimitation exercise is halted.
He was approached for comments on the mixed reaction of political parties and NGOs on holding polls in the last week of January next year while others seeking the conduct of elections on or before November 07 to fulfill the constitutional requirement, following the dissolution of the National Assembly three days before its term was to end.
The official explained that immediate announcement of the date for polls is not technically possible. Even if it was done so, it would lead to a series of poll-related activities with specific timelines under Section 57 of the Elections Act 2017.
He pointed out that the announcement of an election date is followed by a chain of events, including the election schedule, filing of nomination papers, scrutiny of nomination papers deciding appeals against their acceptance and rejection, and electioneering and monitoring.
The official defended the ECP’s decision to initiate the delimitation of constituencies afresh, following the notification of the first-ever digital census.
“The constitutional body had taken the decision on delimitation before polls after thoroughly examining the law and Constitution, and relevant judgments of the superior judiciary.”
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Awami National Party (ANP) are among the political parties insisting on elections within the constitutional limit i.e. 90 days, whereas Pattan and Coalition38, a body of over 150 civil society organisations and labour unions, opposed the delayed polls.
In a joint statement, they contended the ECP’s statement of holding polls in the last week of January 2024 is a clear violation of Article 48(5a) of the Constitution, which categorically orders to holding of general elections within 90 days of dissolution of assemblies.
They charged that the commission has eroded its credibility and the trust of the public by taking U-turns and violating orders of superior courts.
For instance, it stubbornly refused to hold general elections for Punjab and KP assemblies on the 14th of May. It also cancelled the local government election for Islamabad Capital Territory while polling was to take place in three days.
The ECP also violated its own goals set under the Fourth Strategic Plan and sections (94 and 103) of the Elections Act 2017.
They continued, “We also note with deep concern that the ECP, instead of holding elections within 90 days of the dissolution of National Assembly, began delimitation of constituencies, which was not only based on flawed and highly politicised population census but also not mandatory under the Constitution.”
Their statement also referred to a survey conducted during the last two weeks at 522 locations of 67 districts, wherein as many as 17% of the respondents said the census enumerators did not enter their data on the Tab, which was mandatory for geo-tagging, while 10% said the enumerators didn’t come at all.
The statement demanded of the ECP not to use the flawed population census 2023 results for delimitation, and instead it should use the delimitation time to hold elections in November.