ISLAMABAD/LAHORE/KARACHI: Expressing concern over the events of the past few days, including a resolution passed by the Balochistan Assembly demanding delay in coming general elections and some decisions of the superior courts, the country’s two major political parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — on Saturday warned that the “ongoing attempts” to delay the polls would destabilise democratic process and ultimately the state.
Outgoing National Assembly Speaker and PML-N leader Ayaz Sadiq feared that the judgement announced by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday could cause a delay in holding the elections on time and announced that he would soon challenge the decision in court.
Talking to reporters in Lahore, Mr Sadiq termed the LHC judgement “illogical” and questioned its timing, stating that the petition had been filed in December last year, but the decision had come at a time when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had already announced the election schedule.
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Taking exception to the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty about the holding of the elections on time, the PPP has called for convening an emergency session of the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, which remains intact even after dissolution of the National Assembly and end of the term of the government.
The formerly ruling PML-N, during a meeting of its parliamentary board in Lahore, expressed concern over the possibility of delaying the elections and passed a resolution stating that “the PML-N will stand tall and defeat any move aimed at delaying the general elections.”
The meeting was jointly presided over by the party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and president Shahbaz Sharif.
In its judgement, a single bench of the LHC, comprising Justice Ayesha Mailk, had directed the ECP to include all mandatory information and declarations in forms A and B (nomination papers) for the elections, which were previously available in the 2013 polls.
Mr Sadiq said both the National Assembly and the Senate had taken much time in finalising the nomination papers and all political parties in the presence of the ECP had agreed on simplifying the document. He said the IHC had already rejected some identical petitions on this issue and the Senate elections were held under similar nomination papers.
“Everyone knows well the meaning of a verdict that comes soon after the end of the government’s five-year term and when parliament is not available to review this decision. Was Justice Malik unaware about the last date of the government’s five-year term?” he asked.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which had also called for timely elections, came out with a clarification that it had played no role in the changes made in the nomination papers.
The clarification by former PTI MNA Dr Shireen Mazari came hours after Mr Sadiq’s claim that the changes in the nomination papers had been approved by all parties.
“Deliberately false news being circulated in media and social media that I was actively involved in the new (nomination) forms for candidates in the Election Reforms Committee. Absolute rubbish,” she said in a tweet.
Ms Mazari claimed she was present in one meeting of the committee where the forms were discussed, but nothing was finalised in that meeting. She alleged that the final forms were added when the bill was put to the National Assembly for voting.
She said the PTI had rejected the final draft of the electoral reforms bill and it had submitted a “dissenting note” during the final meeting of the committee and even its members had even staged a walkout. Moreover, she said, the PTI did not vote for the bill in the assembly when it was presented for the passage.
Meanwhile, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani warned in a statement that the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligation under Article 224 of the Constitution of holding elections within 60 days (of dissolution of the assemblies) would cast a dark shadow on the federation.
“The federation under no circumstances can afford a further destabilisation of the democratic process as this will lead to severe polarisation between the federation and the provinces and also among the provinces,” he said, adding the state must realise that “using the province of Balochistan for the furtherance of such an agenda is only weakening those nationalist elements who are doing politics within framework of the constitution.”
Mr Rabbani said the judiciary while exercising judicial review in matters pertaining to electoral process must keep in mind the statement of the chief justice of Pakistan that the elections would be held on time.
“As the Senate represents the provinces and has representation of all major political parties, a heavy responsibility rests on its shoulder. It needs to monitor and keep in check any or all state functionaries to ensure that the elections are held on July 25,” he said.
He reiterated his demand that the Senate be summoned or requisitioned immediately to remain in session till July 25 to ensure that the elections were held on time in a free, fair and transparent manner.
Opposition Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman and PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari, speaking at a press conference in Karachi, said an environment of uncertainty had emerged within a week putting the holding of timely elections in doubt.
“The PPP does not want any delay in general elections. The caretaker prime minister has also clarified that the elections will be held on time and even the ECP has ensured that the elections will be held on July 25 but still things are not clear,” Ms Rehman said.
Amid many events one after another, she said, the PPP had begun consultation with all political parties to requisition a Senate session on the prospect of delayed elections.
Ms Rehman said the PPP did not want clash of institutions but for that reason every stakeholder having a role in the electoral process should show maturity and responsibility.
“Parliament has the authority to make amendments in the nomination forms,” she insisted.
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2018