ISLAMABAD: The Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday issued a revised schedule for the upcoming general elections, setting June 19 as the last date for scrutiny of nomination papers of electoral candidates instead of June 14.

The third modification in the election schedule following its announcement on May 31 appears to have been prompted by realisation that the time for scrutiny was too short for the meaningful scrutiny that the ECP had been striving for.

Under the original schedule, the nomination papers were to be filed by the candidates from June 2 to 6. The dates were revised to June 4-6 under a notification issued on June 3. Following the Lahore High Court verdict setting aside nomination forms for electoral candidates, the ECP had asked returning officers not to receive nomination papers from the candidates.

A day after announcing the extension of date for receiving nomination papers to June 11, the commission has now issued a revised schedule. Under the updated schedule, the nomination papers along with newly developed affidavits to make up for deficiencies in the forms can be filed till June 11.

Since the change had squeezed the time for scrutiny, which under the Elections Act 2017 has to be eight days, the time for scrutiny of nomination papers has been extended to June 19. Previously, the last date for scrutiny was June 14.

The last date for filing appeals against acceptance or rejection of nomination papers by the returning officers — which was June 19 under the original schedule — will now be June 22. The last date for decision on the appeals by tribunals, which was June 26, will now be June 27.

Revised lists of validly nominated candidates will be published on June 28 instead of June 27. The last date for withdrawal of candidature will be June 29 instead of June 28 and that for allocation of symbols and publication of the final list of contesting candidates will be June 30 instead of June 29.

This will be a slight violation of Section 57 (i) of the Elections Act that reads: “The date or dates on which a poll shall, if necessary, be taken, which or the first of which shall be a date not earlier than the twenty eighth day after the publication of the revised list of candidates.”

Since the revised list of candidates is to be published on June 28 and the elections are scheduled for July 25, it will be a day short of the legal requirement.

A senior ECP official, however, said there was a room in the law for modification in the election schedule in exceptional circumstances. He referred to Section 58 of the Elections Act 2017, which reads: “Alteration in Election Programme.—(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in section 57, the Commission may, at any time after the issue of the notification under sub-section (1) of that section, make such alterations in the Election Programme announced in that notification for the different stages of the election or may issue a fresh Election Programme as may, in its opinion to be recorded in writing, be necessary for the purposes of this Act.”

The ECP has announced that all offices of the commission, district returning officers and returning officers and scrutiny cells of the National Database and Registration Authority, State Bank of Pakistan, National Accountability Bureau and Federal Board of Revenue assisting the ECP in the scrutiny process will remain open on June 18.

Uplift funds

The commission has also announced the decision to freeze development funds of local governments across the country with immediate effect, till the announcement of election results.

A notification issued on Friday said the ECP was charged with the constitutional duty of organising and conducting elections honestly, justly and fairly, and it had become imperative that the commission might take all necessary steps under the law to prevent any action on part of the local governments that amounted to influencing the election results.

Meanwhile, the ECP has convened a meeting on June 13 to discuss security arrangements for the upcoming general elections, including deployment of army and Rangers personnel at polling stations and timelines for categorisation of most sensitive, sensitive and normal polling stations. The meeting will be presided over by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2018