ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has made it clear that timely holding of the next general elections will be possible only if the law to provide for fresh delimitation on the basis of provisional census results is enacted by Nov 10.

Speaking at a media workshop on Tuesday on arrangements for the elections, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad said that the “constituencies for the upcoming polls are not clear”. Under the constitutional provisions, the elections could only be held on the basis of 2017 census, he added.

Under the existing law fresh delimitation is possible only after final notification of the last census results which, according to the Statistics Division, is to be issued sometime in April 2018, whereas the elections are to take place in the end of July or early August.

Meanwhile, amid doubts about holding of electoral exercise on time, PTI Chairman Imran Khan warned against any delay in holding of polls. “Given the complete paralysis in governance, the PTI will oppose any legislation aimed at delaying general elections,” Mr Khan tweeted.

The ECP secretary stressed that timely elections were possible only if the amendment to the Election Act was passed by both houses of parliament. He said that delimitation would be possible with a dint of hard work only if the amendment process was completed by Nov 10.

PTI chief warns against delay in holding elections

The ECP had last week given a deadline of seven days to the government for amending the Election Act, which is to end on Friday (Nov 3). The fresh warning means an extension in the deadline for another seven days.

ECP officials stress that they are bound to delimit constituencies afresh once national population census has been carried out.

“After fresh census, it is not possible for us to conduct new elections on the basis of existing delimitation,” Babar Yaqoob said.

ECP officials told reporters that elections had to be held within 60 days if assemblies completed their full term. Since the five-year term of current assemblies would be ending on June 5, 2018, next elections are to be held before Aug 5.

The ECP would start updating voters’ lists from this month. It would conduct door-to-door verification of new voters in December and lists would be put on display in display centers in January 2018. Updated voters’ lists will be published in March-April. The commission expects that the number of voters would go up to 100 million prior to the general elections.

The ECP secretary said that electoral rolls would be frozen by May 8 after which no addition or deletion would be possible till completion of the electoral process.

He said that the ECP would continue use of electronic voting machines, biometric verification machines and voting for expatriate Pakistanis on an experimental basis. “We don’t want to jump into use of technology blindly,” Mr Yaqoob said.

Earlier during a training session, ECP officials told reporters that non-market water mark paper would be used for ballot papers in the next general elections as a security measure.

The commission would be taking returning officers from the judiciary and other government departments for the elections.

Under new laws a contestant would be required to submit Rs30,000 surety bond for a seat of the National Assembly, and Rs20,000 for the provincial assembly and the Senate along with their nomination papers. Earlier this amount was Rs4,000 and Rs2,000, respectively.

Similarly maximum limit of election expenses has been enhanced to Rs4 million for National Assembly, Rs2m for Provincial Assembly and Rs1.5m for the Senate seat.

Mr Yaqoob said after the new law, ECP has got administrative powers over the temporary staff they hired from different government departments. These officials would take oath of impartiality as well. Now the ECP can take punitive action against these officials directly. Earlier in case of any complaints, the ECP wrote to the parent department of the official for disciplinary action but hardly any action was taken.

ECP Director General (Election) Yousaf Khattak said in his presentation that every polling station would have maximum 1,200 voters.

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2017