• Step to complete electoral college for Senate polls
• All the provinces, except Sindh, skip meeting
ISLAMABAD: In what is being seen as a sudden move, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday decided to immediately hold by-elections in eight constituencies of national and provincial assemblies, which have been pending because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision, which would pave way for completion of electoral college for the coming Senate polls, was taken at a meeting of the commission held here with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja in the chair.
All the provinces, except Sindh, chose to skip the meeting despite being invited. Senior PPP leader Taj Haider attended the meeting which was also joined by Sindh Chief Minister’s Adviser on Law Murtaza Wahab and other representatives of the provincial government via video link.
ECP Secretary Dr Nazir Akhtar told the meeting that the by-elections were overdue in two constituencies of the National Assembly and six of the provincial assemblies.
These include three provincial assembly constituencies in Sindh and one each in the three other provinces besides one each National Assembly constituency in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Haider said under the Constitution and law, election on a vacant seat was to be held within 60 days.
He pointed out that the national and provincial assemblies formed electoral college for the Senate polls and said the electoral college would remain incomplete if the vacancies were not filled.
He also pointed out that that elections had recently been held in Gilgit-Baltistan and referred to the presidential polls in the United States where Covid-19 spread level is high.
Mr Haider said the constitutional obligation could be met while implementing safety measures related to Covid-19.
He said the Sindh government could hold out assurance the Covid-19 standard operating procedures would be observed during conduct of the by-polls.
Mr Wahab said the number of Covid-19 cases was low in Umerkot and Sanghar - two of the three Sindh Assembly constituencies where by-elections are due to be held.
The ECP also kept in view the provinces’ opinion on the issue received by it earlier. While Sindh and Balochistan had already expressed their readiness to conduct the by-polls, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had recommended postponement.
The Commission after examining facts decided to hold by-polls on the vacant seats and directed the ECP secretariat to issue a schedule of by-elections for all the vacant national and provincial assembly seats.
The Commission also asked the provinces to ensure strict observance of SOPs during the electoral process.
Informed sources told Dawn that the schedule for by- elections in the eight constituencies would be issued today (Friday).
The two National Assembly constituencies where by-elections are to be held are: NA-75 Sialkot and NA-45 Kurram Agency.
The provincial assembly seats awaiting by-polls are: PS-52 Umerkot, PS-88 Malir and PS-43 Sanghar in Sindh, PP-51 Gujranwala in Punjab, PK-63 Nowshera in KP and PB-20 Pishin in Balochistan.
Earlier on Dec 1, the ECP had decided not to hold any pending by-polls before Jan 31, 2021.
The decision taken in the light of the recommendations of the National Command and Operation Centre overseeing coronavirus-related affairs had evoked a strong response from the PPP which had said that the conduct of the by-polls was a constitutional obligation which must be met.
Chairperson of Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs and PPP leader Sassui Palijo had expressed concern over the decision and urged the ECP to reverse it.
The ECP had drawn severe criticism for the inordinate delay in conduct of by-polls on three Sindh Assembly seats - one of which had fallen vacant back in January.
PPP’s Taj Haider in a letter written to the CEC had invited his attention towards Article 224(4) of the Constitution which requires holding of by-elections on vacant seats within 60 days. He had pointed out that the constitutional limit of 60 days had already passed and asked if the constitutional provisions should be set aside on any pretext.
He had stressed that it should not be done and steps should be taken to mitigate any ill-effect of not meeting the constitutional obligation.
Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2020