Getting to general elections

March 12, 2023

The debate regarding early general elections involves several factors, some of them rather unpredictable

Getting to general elections


akistan is currently in dire need of several things besides general elections. For one, it needs to avoid getting bankrupt – although some say it’s a matter merely of form. It also needs to tackle the fresh onslaught of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the ISIS-Khorasan and maintain peace.

There are though no two opinions about elections. Elections are a democratic and constitutional requirement and must be held on time, unless some catastrophe forbids that.

Had our politicians played their cards well over the last two years, we would not have been where we are now. Imran Khan would have been the prime minister today and battling the economic challenges single-mindedly. Sadly, he lost the opportunity and is now fighting for general elections to be held early. He still enjoys the support of a large number of Pakistanis.

One of the most difficult things to do amid political uncertainty – unless you are Sheikh Rashid Ahmed – is to make predictions. The majority Supreme Court judgment on the necessity of holding elections within 90 days of the dissolution of a legislature has not made the matter any clearer. In the interest of clarity, let’s separate the predictable from the unpredictable.

First, let’s look at the predictable(s):

1. General elections or provincial elections? One thing is clear: if, having exhausted all options available to it to delay the elections, the PDM is compelled to hold any elections it will go for provincial elections. It is in no mood to hold general elections any time soon. If they can have it their way, the PDM leaders will not want elections before September.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s mantra these days is that there should be no elections until “wrongs done against Nawaz Sharif” have been righted and Imran Khan held accountable. This appears to be an extreme position. In the end the PML-N will likely make a lot of concessions.

2. Constitutional need: Our sacred political guidebook stipulates that elections should be held within a fixed term following the dissolution (of the relevant assembly). The constitution envisages two such periods: sixty days and ninety days respectively. In relation to a provincial assembly, the first period applies when the assembly dissolves on the expiration of its term under Article 107, and the second period is prescribed when it is dissolved sooner under Article 112. According to the SC judgment, absolute fidelity is required in this case. But the court has left the door a bit open by saying that if such course is not available to the Election Commission then it shall, in like manner, propose a date for the holding of the polls that deviates to the barest minimum from the aforesaid deadline.

3. Election dates: After the judicial clarification, an eager President Arif Alvi has announced April 30 as the date for the Punjab Assembly elections. The Election Commission has accordingly announced a schedule for the Punjab elections, but not for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections.

Kunwar Dilshad, a former secretary of the Election Commission, has written in an article in the Independent Urdu that the federal government was examining the legal aspects and will likely try to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the matter under Article 86 of the constitution on the account of the latest census and the decisions taken by the Council of Common Interests.

Getting to general elections

Should the court agree, it seems elections for these two provincial legislatures too could be held on a later date.

And now, on to the


1. Economy: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s efforts to stabilise the national economy have not met much success so far. Much might depend on the release of a loan tranche by the International Monetary Fund and on some friendly countries’ willingness to park their dollars in Pakistan.

The Election Commission has reported the Ministry of Finance’s reluctance to release the much needed funds for elections as one of the reasons for a potential delay. The PDM seems to be trying to delay the elections till they can tame inflation. In view of the international trends, this seems to be a daunting challenge.

2. Law and order: The TTP and the Daish pose a serious threat. Their daring attacks in Peshawar and Karachi are painful signs that they are back in business. Interior Minister Rana Sanullah has questioned the desirability of holding elections in an environment where political parties cannot run their elections campaigns in public.

Unlike the past, when the ANP and PPP were overt targets, the militants have not yet made their intentions clear about targeting any politicians yet. Their main target seems to be law enforcement agencies, especially the police. One will have to keep a close watch on evolving militant strategy to decide holding or otherwise of elections.

3. Politics: Some initial fissures over census are already visible in the PDM. The PPP has gone public with its reservations. The prime minister has tried to resolve them in a meeting with Asif Ali Zardari to avoid the issues getting out of hand. It seems that the PDM components are not ready to turn the anti-Imran Khan coalition into an election alliance. This could dampen their chances of success in the general elections.

What shape the PTI will take while stepping into these elections is another unknown. Will the potential arrest of Imran Khan improve or diminish PTI’s chances in the elections?

It appears somewhat certain now that general elections will be held this year. The question then is, what would the parameters of the exercise be?

The writer, a journalist for 33 years, has been an editor at the BBC in Pakistan for over two decades. Currently, he is the managing editor at Independent Urdu

Getting to general elections