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Tuesday March 05, 2024

ECP postpones Punjab polls till Oct 8

Provincial Assembly polls were initially scheduled for April 30

March 23, 2023
A file photo of ECP board outside its office. Photo: AFP
A file photo of ECP board outside its office. Photo: AFP

ISLAMABAD: In a surprise development, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Wednesday announced the postponement of the upcoming elections in Punjab till October 8, initially scheduled to be held on April 30, citing security reasons as the major cause for the change in plan.

In the light of Supreme Court’s split ruling last month, President Arif Alvi announced the date for the Punjab polls after consulting the ECP.

Citing its responsibility towards ensuring fair elections in the country, the election organising authority, in its notification, recounted its various endeavours in trying to ensure that the commission carried out its responsibilities diligently.

The notification said that in order to organise and conduct the election in accordance with the law in a peaceful manner, the commission had written letters to the Ministry of Interior and Defence for the “deployment of Pakistan Army/Rangers and Frontier Corps at all the polling stations” established for the conduct of general election to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab in static mode.

This was done in view of the heightened security situation in the province and the recent terrorist wave in the country, it added.

However, Punjab Chief Secretary and Inspector General of Police (IGP) informed the stakeholders in a meeting of the serious law and order situation, quoting various incidents in the province and the country. For deputation on election duty, there is a shortfall of approximately 386,623 security personnel, the notification said, which can only be covered by deploying army soldiers and Rangers in static mode.

The ECP order said that currently, only one security personnel on average was available per polling station due to a “massive shortfall in police personnel” and the non-provision of army personnel as a static force.

“The commission is unable to make alternate arrangements to ensure security of the election material, polling staff, voters and the candidates,” the order reads.

It added that after the briefings from the law enforcement agencies and federal ministries, the ECP had convened meetings on March 20, 21 and 22 to “deliberate extensively” on the matter of Punjab elections.

“The commission, after considering the reports, briefing and material brought before it, has arrived at the just conclusion that it is not possible to hold and organise the elections honestly, justly, fairly in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” the order reads.

In its order, the Election Commission said that in exercise of the powers conferred upon it by Article 218(3), read with Section 58 and Section 8(c) of the Elections Act, 2017, the commission “hereby withdraws the [earlier] election programme […] and fresh schedule will be issued in due course of time with poll date on October 8.”

Earlier, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told a joint session of parliament on Wednesday that fair and free elections on the same day were needed in the national interest. He said elections had been delayed beyond the 90-day limit in the past also under the Constitution. He was arguing against holding general and provincial elections separately.

However, he made it clear that the notion that the coalition government was avoiding polls was principally wrong, and it merely wanted them to be held in a transparent manner.

He said it was crucial to get rid of Fitna and Fasad like Imran Khan, who had been attempting to create anarchy, unrest and instability in the country for the last 10 years.

The joint session was called to discuss law and order and terrorism, economic policy, Jammu and Kashmir issue, respect for national institutions, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), population explosion, climate change impacts and foreign policy.

He said that Imran Khan also tried to sabotage the appointment to a key post in November last year and for that purpose, started the long march and invaded twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad with the support of a Jatha, which also comprised police from Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He said after the nation rejected Imran Khan’s plans to hold fresh elections, they dissolved the Punjab and KP assemblies.

He said guidance was needed from the parliament on economic, judicial and political crises in the country. “There was no such crisis, but Imran Khan has been trying to create such a situation for the last 10 years,” he added.

The interior minister said the parliament should guide the government on economic issues and to deal with violence created by the PTI with the support of miscreants of banned outfits and should also give guidance on holding elections fairly and freely on the same date.

He regretted that Imran Khan, while in the government, continued victimisation of opponents and, while in the opposition, utilised every day to create anarchy and instability in the country.

He said the police personnel belonging to anti-riot squad were subjected to torture and 68 of them were injured, but police did not use any live ammunition. He said that so far 316 miscreants, who created violence in Lahore, burnt vehicles of police and citizens, have been booked and their trial would be held in anti-terrorism court.

He said that Imran Khan had no answer and justification for theft, which he committed in Toshakhana, and his party’s involvement in foreign funding, but he was reluctant to appear in courts and trying to sabotage the court proceedings. “He is intentionally using tactics to create such situations so that he can avoid the court proceedings,” Rana Sana added.

The minister said Imran Khan also wanted to see blood and bodies so that he could promote his agenda of anarchy, fitna, fasad and unrest in the country.

Rana Sanaullah said it was true that elections to the dissolved assemblies should be held within 90 days, but the Constitution also says that the Election Commission of Pakistan should ensure fair and free elections on the same date.

He pointed out that regardless of the fact which party wins polls if held in Punjab on April 30, the results favouring a party there would set a trend for elections to seats of National Assembly and provincial assemblies. In this way, the minister said elections to be held in remaining provincial assemblies and National Assembly later would not provide level playing field to all the political parties. “A party coming to power in Punjab province as a result of April 30 polls, will enjoy edge over other parties in elections to be held in other provinces and on seats of National Assembly later,” he said.

The interior minister said the government could not think of disobeying directives of the chief justice of Pakistan regarding polls on April 30, and was aware of powers the Supreme Court holds according to the Constitution.

Referring to recent directives of the chief justice that the apex court would intervene if there were bad intentions in holding fair and free polls, the interior minister said the chief justice should pass an order, and not merely intervene. However, he added, it was not unconstitutional and illegal for the government and parliament to convey its opinion to the court that such elections would bring unrest, anarchy and instability in the country. “Whether this opinion is worthy of your consideration,” the minister said while addressing the chief justice of Pakistan.

He said it was also being said that audio leaks were meant to malign the Supreme Court, but it was also a fact that audio-tapes used to leak in the past also. “Whether there is no person namely Ali Sahi in audio and talks about the two,” he said requesting the chief justice to also inquire about the issue.

He said that if there was no truth in the tale of Ali Sahi, then the chief justice should punish the government people. He said as per the Constitution, the elections to dissolved assembly should be held in 90 days, but the date of April 30 falls outside restriction of this time-frame. He also pointed out that in the past, there was no restriction of 60 or 90 days. “But today we are facing a Fitna’ and Fasad and an individual who spent the last 10 years for creating unrest in the country,” he said.

The minister said that except for trying to implement the IMF programme reached by the previous regime, the PTI leaders were trying to foil the IMF agreement and had created an impression that the country was going to default.

He said Imran Khan and his party in the last 11 months were actively busy in creating economic, administrative and political instability and anarchy in the country. “Someday, this country will face a big disaster if we do not find a remedy and treatment to this Fitna and Fasad,” he added.

Muhammad Aslam Bhotani said the judiciary and armed forces were respectable institutions, but parliament should also be given respect. Senator Tahir Bizenjo said the country was facing political unrest and anarchy, which could be disastrous for democracy.