Elections not possible in 90 days, says ECP official

September 23, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Ruling out the possibility of delimitation exercise to be over by November 30, a senior official at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said that the general election in the mandated 90 days would not be possible even if the exercise is halted and poll schedule is announced immediately.

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 National Assembly three days before its term was to end.

The official explained that immediate announcement of 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 the announcement of an election date is followed by a chain of events, including election schedule, filing of nomination papers, scrutiny of nomination papers and deciding appeals against their acceptance and rejection and electioneering and monitoring.

The official defended the ECP’s decision to initiate delimitation of constituencies afresh, following the notification of 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 the Article 48(5a) of the Constitution, which categorically orders to hold general elections within 90 days of dissolution of assemblies.

They charged that the commission has eroded its credibility and trust of the public by taking U-turns and by violating orders of superior courts. For instance, it stubbornly refused to hold general elections for Punjab and KP assemblies on 14th of May. It also cancelled 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 the 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 percent of the respondents said the census enumerators did not enter their data on the Tab, which was mandatory for geo-tagging, while 10 percent 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. “We appeal to the Supreme Court to order the ECP to hold elections in accordance to Article 48(5a). We also demand that ECP takes confidence building measures so that elections take place in a conducive environment. Under Article 218, it is the responsibility of the ECP to hold free, fair, honest, just, and independent elections. For that every player must have level playing field and in order to achieve that all political prisons must be free before election processes begins.”