ISLAMABAD: In what is perceived to be a move to stop rumour mills from casting doubts about general elections, President Asif Ali Zardari announced on Wednesday that the nation would go to the polls on May 11 to elect the National Assembly.
Presidency’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar said the president announced the date soon after a summary had been received from the prime minister.
After the announcement, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) swung into action and prepared the election schedule to be formally announced on March 23.
According to the schedule, returning officers will issue a public notice on March 24 of the dates specified by the commission for respective constituencies.
Nomination papers will be received from March 25 to 30 and their scrutiny will be held from March 31 to April 6.
April 10 will be the last date for filing appeals against rejection or acceptance of appeals by returning officers and the appeals will be decided by election tribunals by April 17.
Candidatures may be withdrawn by April 18 and a revised list of candidates will be published the following day.
The candidates will get a little less than three weeks for campaign which has to end 48 hours before polling.
A notification issued by the presidency mentioned only elections for the National Assembly, apparently because till then there was confusion over the fate of the Punjab Assembly which would complete its constitutional term on April 8. But hours after the president’s announcement, the Punjab Assembly was dissolved.
The assemblies of other three provinces had been dissolved earlier.
The law allows holding elections to the national and provincial assemblies on the same day.
Section 25 of the Representation of People Act reads: “Polls for a general election for an assembly shall be held on the same day and the polls for National Assembly seats and the provincial assembly seats may be held simultaneously.”
Section 11 of the Act says: “As soon as (may be necessary and practicable) the president makes an announcement of the date or dates on which the polls shall be taken, the Election Commission (not later than thirty days of such announcement) shall, by notification in the official gazette, call upon a constituency to elect a representative or representatives …”.
All six elections from 1970 to 1993 for the national and provincial assemblies were held on separate dates with a gap of between three days and a month.
In 1970, elections for the National Assembly were held on Dec 7 and the polling for provincial assemblies took place on Dec 17.
In 1977, elections were held on March 7 for the National Assembly and on March 17 for the provincial assemblies.
In 1985, ‘non-party’ elections for the National Assembly took place on Jan 28 and for the provincial assemblies on Feb 25.
In 1988, elections for the National Assembly were held on Oct 16 and for the provincial assemblies on Nov 19.
In 1990, elections for the National Assembly were held on Nov 24 and for the provincial assemblies on Nov 27.
In 1993, elections for the National Assembly took place on Oct 6 and for the provincial assemblies on Oct 9.
But three previous elections for the national and provincial assemblies were held on the same date. The 1997 elections were held on Feb 3, the 2002 polls on Oct 10 and the 2008 elections on Feb 18.
Interestingly, the party which ruled the country for five years after the 2008 general elections is yet to be allotted an election symbol. Its application is pending with the ECP and a decision is expected on March 25, the day when returning officers will start receiving nomination papers.
These would be the first elections to be held under the ECP’s decision to thoroughly scrutinise nomination papers by involving the Federal Board of Revenues, the State Bank of Pakistan, the National Accountability Bureau and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to screen out tax-evaders, loan-defaulters, beneficiaries of written-off loans and convicts. Narda will help identify with the help of the family tree on its database if the spouse or dependants of a candidate fall in the category.The election date meets the constitution’s requirement of holding general elections within 60 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. The assembly was dissolved after completion of its five-year term on March 16.
Sources in the PPP said the party wanted the elections to the national and provincial assemblies on the same day and the president might issue another order soon to announce elections for the national and provincial assemblies on the same day.
“The president was waiting for the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly so that he could announce elections of the national and provincial assemblies on the same date, but the PML-N withheld its decision to dissolve the provincial assembly, apparently in a move to remain in a bargaining position on the issue of the selection of caretaker prime minister and chief minister of Punjab,” the sources said.
They said the PML-N had delayed the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly because it had sensed that the PPP wanted elections to all assemblies on the same day.
The president decided to announce the election date for the National Assembly without waiting for the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly to keep the PML-N in an equal position in the dialogue over the selection of caretaker prime minister and chief minister of Punjab.
The PPP believes that holding elections for the national and provincial assemblies on different dates would create complications, increase election expenses and cause security concerns.