Saturday June 22, 2024

Key ministries tell ECP about challenges in holding polls

The finance secretary told ECP that the country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis

By Mumtaz Alvi
March 10, 2023
The name board outside the ECP building in Islamabad. Geo/File
The name board outside the ECP building in Islamabad. Geo/File

ISLAMABAD: Uncertainty still persists on whether general election to the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) legislatures would be held anytime soon, as the two key ministries Thursday again cited certain factors in the way of extending cooperation to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

In this connection, the ECP summoned top officials of the ministries of Finance and Interior, and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja presided over a meeting here.

The finance secretary and interior secretary were called to the meeting to ensure provision of funds and security for the elections. The ECP told the finance secretary funds to the tune of Rs65 billion would be required to hold the general election across country. Out of this, Rs20 billion would be urgently needed for election in two provinces.

He was informed that only Rs5 billion had been given to the commission so far, while another Rs15 billion were required in the current financial year. The finance secretary briefed the ECP meeting about the overall economic situation of the country. He said it was difficult for the ministry to provide the required funds but, he promised, he would give a final reply only after consulting the federal government.

According to a source, the finance secretary explained that the country was faced with an unprecedented economic crisis. He added that the country was under an IMF programme and had strict targets for maintaining fiscal discipline and fighting deficits.

Regarding provision of election security, the interior secretary informed the ECP meeting that apart from the police in the two provinces, other law-enforcement agencies would require 297,000 additional personnel in Punjab and 56,000 in KPK. The secretary was urged to contact the army, Rangers and other law-enforcement agencies and inform them to make arrangements for the required force.

Moreover, the forum was told a meeting would be held with agencies, including IB, ISI and CTDs of the two provinces on March 10, besides the inspectors general of police (IGPs) and chief secretaries of the two provinces had also been called for a meeting next week.

Along with this, a meeting is also being held with the Ministry of Defence to finalise the arrangements for the election. The KPK governor has also expressed his desire to hold a meeting with the commission next week to decide the date for provincial elections.

However, the ECP made it clear in the meeting that holding of general election was a constitutional obligation, and also referred to the SC’s recent judgment in the suo moto case. Therefore, the commission asked the officials to seek instructions from the federal government in this connection on how to move forward.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders, led by Vice-Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, met CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja at the ECP Secretariat on Thursday. It was learnt that the PTI leaders apprised the CEC of their concerns and insisted on steps to ensure level playing electoral environment in the run-up to general election to the Punjab and KPK assemblies.They also urged for approaching the judiciary again for acquiring the services of judicial officers to serve as district returning officers and returning officers, as it would add to political parties and voters confidence in the poll process. The PTI team drew the attention of the CEC towards the Wednesday’s Lahore clashes and death of a party worker.

Sources said that PTI leaders offered all possible cooperation to the ECP to achieve the objective of free, fair and credible elections. The CEC patiently listened to the visitors and assured them that every possible effort would be made to make the polls free, fair and transparent and provide level playing field to all political parties.

Later, after the meeting, during a chat with the media outside the ECP, Qureshi said that neutrality from the incumbent caretaker and executive setup could not be expected. He stressed appointment of judicial officers as DROs and ROs for the upcoming polls.

He said the PTI would move a court of law for contempt if the KPK governor went against the Constitution and Supreme Court of Pakistan’s recent verdict on provincial assembly elections.

In view of the law and order, he said the police have capacity to man the polling stations, with the help of other law-enforcement agencies. He said the PTI would try to assist the ECP in achieving the objective of free, fair and credible elections.

“Today’s meeting was held in a very cordial way and the details of it will be shared with the chairman. I am going back satisfied,” he said.

To a question that the PTI leadership had been calling the ECP as B-team of the PMLN and government and now they have met the CEC, he said they had crossed that bridge and that it was too easy to point finger at anyone any time. He did not take more questions and left the venue.