Parties sound off about potential polls delay
As the decision to hold delimitations afresh raises the spectre of the general elections getting delayed, major parties on Saturday strongly condemned the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision, warning the “unconstitutional” postponement of elections could escalate into political instability and uncertainty.
Senators from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami voiced their opposition to the ECP’s decision, arguing that it violated the electoral body’s constitutional obligation to hold elections within 90 days. They called for the elections to proceed as scheduled.
However, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani defended the decision, pointing out that it had been approved by the previous coalition government, which represented a majority of political parties.
Sanjrani also highlighted that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) under the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government had granted approval for the 2023 census, recognising the need for delimitation of electoral constituencies based on updated census data.
He assured the nation that the next general elections would take place promptly after the completion of the delimitation process.
He emphasised that the ECP would announce the election date as soon as the delimitation exercise concluded.
Sanjrani urged the nation to remain content, stressing that the ECP was fully capable of conducting the elections on time.
Further, Sanjrani pledged that the Senate, as the representative body of all the provinces in Pakistan, would continue to work during the tenure of the caretaker government to safeguard the rights of each province.
PPP demands timely elections
Meanwhile, the decision to hold a fresh census prompted the PPP to call upon the ECP to hold general elections within 90 days as per the Constitution.
The PPP leaders demanded of the ECP and the chief election commissioner to review the decision regarding the duration of delimitation of constituencies and hold elections on time.
Expressing her thoughts, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman expressed concern over the ECP’s statement that it would take four months to complete the delimitation process in accordance with the new census.
She said: “This is alarming and disappointing for the PPP. We would like to urge the ECP to review its decision.”
She said, “The objective behind the early dissolution of the assemblies was to give the ECP more time for the election preparations.”
She said the PPP had agreed to hold the elections on the basis of the new census, despite having reservations about the digital census. However, any delay in the elections would lead to political uncertainty and instability, she cautioned.
Provincial PPP leaders in Sindh also expressed their concerns, emphasising that holding general elections within 90 days was a constitutional requirement. They stressed that Pakistan could not afford a delay in elections.
They also advocated for new voter lists to be made using the new census but stated that there was no need for changes in the constituencies.
PPP Sindh President Senator Nisar Khuhro along with party leaders Senator Waqar Mehdi and Saeed Ghani while addressing a news conference on Saturday urged the ECP to reconsider the decision to complete the delimitation process by December, saying holding the general election within 90 days was a constitutional requirement.
According to the Constitution, the ECP is bound to hold the elections within 90 days after the dissolution of assemblies before completing the five-year term, Nisar Khuhro said, adding that Pakistan could not afford any delay in elections.
Senator Khuhro said assemblies were dissolved two days prior to give 90 days’ time to the ECP for completing the delimitation process, therefore the chief election commissioner must take the initiative for holding the election as per the Constitution.
He said that the new voter lists should be made under the new census, while there is no need for changes in the constituencies.
On this occasion, Pakistan Democratic Party leader Basharat Mirza along with his party colleagues announced joining the PPP.
‘PPP was in the know’
Meanwhile, the PML-N addressed the PPP’s concerns, pointing out that the latter was not fully aware of the scenario but was also complicit in the decision-making process that could potentially defer elections having given its consent to decisions made during the CCI meeting.
Seeking to set the record straight, former interior minister Rana Sanaullah said that the PPP knew all along about the circumstances, clarifying that the CCI decided to notify the census with the consensus of all stakeholders, including the PPP.
The PML-N leader also explained that constituencies were rearranged following the census notification and questioned if the PPP was not aware of Article 51 Clause 5, which dictated these arrangements.
On concerns, the PML-N leader acknowledged the validity of the PPP’s objections to the delay in elections but emphasised that delimitation was a constitutional requirement after the census notification.
He highlighted that all parties had agreed that only one election (2018) had been held based on the 2017 census, and it was now constitutionally obligated to conduct elections based on the new census.
Any attempt to hold elections based on the old census would be unconstitutional and would likely be challenged in court, he added.
He expressed his desire for the elections to be held within 60 days instead of 90, expressing confidence that the elections would take place in February 2024. He questioned why the ECP wouldn’t announce the election schedule after delimitations were completed by December 14.
“I wanted that the elections should be held in 60 days instead of 90. I know the standing of PML-N in Punjab. I am sure elections will be held in February 2024,” he said, asking why wouldn’t the ECP announce the election scheduled after the completion of the delimitations till December 14.
The former minister stated that the delimitation of constituencies was the constitutional requirement and there was no other option, adding that holding elections in 90 days was also a constitutional requirement but there was room for it. (With input from APP)