ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decision to postpone the general election to the Punjab Assembly may indirectly be a signal that the electoral exercise for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly will also not be conducted any time before October 8.
In its late-night order on Wednesday, the electoral body changed the date of polls to Punjab Assembly from already fixed April 30 to October 8, which according to experts, implies that the general election to KP Assembly will now be held along with other provincial legislatures as well as the National Assembly.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has already announced a to challenge the ECP decision in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. “As mandated, the Election Commission and Governor Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Haji Ghulam Ali held consultations twice, but instead of giving a date for polls, he dispatched a lengthy letter to explain the law and order, security and financial situation in the province,” a senior ECP official said when approached by The News here.
The governor said that May 28 would be the date of a general election in his province. However, he formally did not give any date during his meeting at the ECP and afterwards, he sent a letter to the commission and called for dealing with various challenges first before going for elections.
While referring to the media reports and the governor’s letter, the official said that almost all the political parties might not be that much interested in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa polls owing to the security situation, as the political stakeholders are in Punjab.
After Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman had declined to be part of the process, leading to fixing of polls date for Punjab, the president proposed two dates i.e. April 30 and May 7 (Sundays) for the conduct of the electoral exercise in the province. President Dr Arif Alvi had fixed April 30 for the purpose.
However, after a series of briefings from the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior, senior military officials, intelligence agencies and the chief secretary of Punjab and IGP, the commission issued an order to postpone the polls in the province, citing mainly security and law and order related reasons.
“We did what was our mandate in relation to Punjab as well as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and beyond that, we can’t do anything.
“We did not cancel elections but took the date forward under Section 58 of the Elections Act, 2017 and informed the president accordingly,” the senior official added.
Section 58 of the Act says, “Alteration in Election Programme: Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 57, the Commission may, at any time after the issue of the notification under sub-section (1) of that section, make such alterations in the Election Programme (EP) announced in that notification for different stages of the election or may issue a fresh EP as may, in its opinion to be recorded in writing, be necessary for the purposes of this Act: Provided that the Commission shall inform the President about any alteration in the EP made under this subsection”.
Another senior official at the commission, when asked about fixing October 8 as the date for elections in Punjab on its own, he contended that this date could also be construed as the day of the general election to the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies.
He explained that the incumbent National Assembly came into existence on August 13, 2018, and hence its last day is August 12; within 60 days the Election Commission has to conduct elections, though October 11 is the last day of the stipulated time, October 8 has been fixed, as Sunday falls on this day.
Under Section 57 of the Act, the President shall announce the date or dates of the general election after consultation with the commission.
Former secretary of the Election Commission, Kanwar Dilshad, told this correspondent that the electoral body’s order was based on hard facts, as explained by the stakeholders, who gave presentations to the commission in recent days. He claimed that the commission had acted on the Constitution and the law to proceed with the given situation.
He pointed out that when ex-premier Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the Election Commission had, on its own, altered the election programme from January 8, 2008, to February 18, 2008. “I have my doubts about the general election to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly being held before October 8 and this is implied in the date given by the commission in its order for Punjab,” he added.