Thursday April 25, 2024

ECP sticks to Oct 8 poll date, warns SC of anarchy, chaos if its schedule not followed

ECP says the conduct of polls on May 14 getting impossible due to the non-provision of funds and forces for maintaining law and order

By Ansar Abbasi
April 19, 2023
Men line up as election officials check their ballot papers during voting in general election at a polling station in Lahore on July 25, 2018. — AFP
Men line up as election officials check their ballot papers during voting in general election at a polling station in Lahore on July 25, 2018. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: In a major development, the Election Commission of Pakistan, in its report submitted before a three-member bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, reiterated its original stance of holding elections in Punjab on Oct 8, 2023.

The Supreme Court was warned by the ECP that if the commission’s itinerary was not followed, it might lead to anarchy and chaos in the country. “The responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan is not only to conduct Elections but that such elections should be free, fair and transparent, so that the voters can cast their votes freely, without fear and peacefully. It is reiterated that the poll date of October 8, 2023, as announced earlier is in keeping with the ground realities and it is also believed that if this itinerary is not followed, it may lead to anarchy and chaos in our country, the responsibility of which ECP cannot withstand,” reads the report submitted before the three-member bench by the secretary ECP on behalf of the commission.

The report said that the commission had proposed the date of October 8th 2023, as the poll date mainly because of intelligence-based operations (IBOs) being conducted in the Kacha areas bordering Sindh and Punjab, Mianwali, Bhakkar and DG Khan. These IBOs have been supported by the Pak Army, Punjab Rangers and Sindh Rangers. This operation, the SC was told, will require 4-5 months at least to complete and will hopefully ensure that the TTP and other terrorist organisations are effectively neutralised.

“The commission is mindful, as stated, that there can be no compromise on the security/safety of the voters, polling staff and the public at large,” the report said.

The report said that the police and other law enforcement agencies were engaged in IBOs, therefore their appointment in election duty will lead to compromising the electoral activities by terrorists, which will re-engage in terrorism, possibly electoral violence.

The Supreme Court was also told by the commission that the prevailing political polarization needs political consensus to bring political temperatures down. From the election point of view, the report said, political polarization can be the triggering effect which could lead to a spiral of violence and increase the risk to safety of the public during polls. The commission urged upon the need to develop some guardrails and red lines for tolerance and for balance between contesting political parties and candidates.

As the armed forces are not being provided in support of election duty, the SC was told that the static shortage of police of 385,485 in Punjab will not be met without this backup support from the armed forces. The report said that the strength of police personnel in the province of Punjab presently available is 81,050 whereas the total requirement of police personnel for the conduct of the election is 466,508.

The commission said that if the elections are not supplemented by other law enforcement agencies in a static mode, the lives and safety of voters, specifically, the election staff and the public at large, will be at premium risk and is likely to be compromised.

In case, the ECP report said, the Supreme Court directs to hold staggered elections, the conduct of elections would be possible in six phases as the re-alignment of forces from one location to another location for the next phase of the election will take approximately one month with the additional burden on the public exchequer. “This staggered election will go beyond even Oct 8th, the date fixed by the commission as poll date, because of six phases.”

The commission also referred to the General Election of 1977, which was staggered with the interval of three days between the national and provincial assemblies, and said, “After the announcement of the result of National Assembly constituencies, the opposition parties attributed alleged rigging in the National Assembly polls and boycotted the polls for the Provincial Assemblies election.”

Staggering, it added, also increases the risk of violence as miscreants have more chances to commit and plan attacks, rather than a one-day limited window opportunity.