Sunday September 24, 2023

Election question

By Editorial Board
March 15, 2023

With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali announcing May 28 as the date for elections in the province, the Punjab and KP elections technically seem all set for a go-ahead. Or do they? On Tuesday, the defence ministry informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the Pakistan Army will not be available for election-related duties. The reason given is the increasing security crisis in the country as well as on the borders. Much before the KP polls come the Punjab polls, due for April 30, right after Eid. Both will no doubt require hefty security measures, ECP preparations, and the usual electoral funds needed to carry out the voting process. There has also been talk about how much of a financial dent the electoral process will cause the country at a time when it has little room for any financial hits.

The Punjab and KP election question has placed political observers and legal analysts in a larger debate: can the two provincial elections take place before the general election? By most accounts, the answer to that is fairly simple: yes. Per the constitution there is little excuse to delay the KP and Punjab elections. A larger question is: can the state afford an electoral exercise – both financially and in terms of security? Opinion seems divided on that. For some, there is little excuse here too. If elections could be held in 2013, they say, when the security situation was far worse, why can they not be held today? They also dismiss the financial concerns, saying that it will set a wrong precedent if the elections are not held as per the constitution, and leave any future government with a handy excuse to delay elections on a whim. Naysayers of the provincial elections however feel that if these two assembly elections take place now, while it may be too early to tell because there are many other factors in a general election, the PTI is in a good place to form governments in both provinces on the face of it. If this happens, then the general elections will take place for the National Assembly seats, Sindh and Balochistan. While Sindh is likely to go right back to the PPP, and Balochistan too is up for grabs, what happens in Punjab and KP? Electoral experts say it will be difficult for political parties to gather enough seats in the centre for the PDM and its allies to make yet another coalition government.

The only way out of this chaotic situation – at a time when the PTI chairman is facing arrest and refusing to abide by court orders as the police try and arrest him every second day – is for the government and the PTI to come to some sort of an understanding. The elections will hardly be able to take place without the required security and other electoral support. Which way forward then? Optimists would say perhaps the PTI could return to the National Assembly – and there has been talk of this – and together parliament can build a consensus and pass a constitutional amendment that separate elections cannot be held. Because as of now, constitutionally there is no bar in holding provincial and general elections separately and both courts and the provincial governments have declared assembly elections for these provinces. With Ramazan a mere 10 days away and Lahore seeing scenes of sheer chaos at Zaman Park, some level of sanity has to prevail – and soon.