Ready for elections?

Published June 2, 2022

IT appears from recent developments that the system is ready for a general election, even if a timeline for the polls remains moot. The situation has significantly changed from just weeks ago when several legal and technical challenges had clouded the prospects of elections being held anytime soon.

When the PTI government had unconstitutionally dissolved the National Assembly and called an early election, an official of the Election Commission of Pakistan had told this paper that the ECP was in no position to conduct elections within the constitutionally mandated three months due to legal and procedural issues. The official had estimated at the time that it would take at least six months for the ECP to be ready.

Fresh delimitation of constituencies; procurement of election material; arrangement for ballot papers; appointment and training of polling staff; repeal of laws pertaining to the use of electronic voting machines and overseas Pakistanis’ voting rights; as well as the appointment of members for Punjab and KP to the ECP had been identified as the key hurdles before elections could be held.

It is interesting to note that most of these hurdles will be eliminated in the near future.

Read: PML-N in two minds on early polls, wants Nawaz back first

A bill amending the law pertaining to EVMs and overseas Pakistanis’ voting rights awaits final presidential assent. Even if President Arif Alvi refuses to sign it — which he most likely will for political reasons — a joint session of parliament can still be called to enact it as law.

The president has, meanwhile, assented to the appointment of the Punjab and KP members of the ECP.

Similarly, the chief election commissioner just yesterday announced that the ECP is “always ready for elections”, following a report nearly two weeks ago that the delimitation of National Assembly and provincial assembly constituencies, based on the 2017 census results, would be complete by mid-August. Electoral rolls are also being revised, and a summary outlining expenditures for the next election has been presented in the National Assembly.

It will be interesting to see how the political parties react. Key government allies like the JUI-F and the PPP had previously said that amendments to the Elections Act and NAB laws were their only condition for calling an election. PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari had recently told PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif that as soon as the reforms were complete, the country can go to the polls.

The PTI, which has been unnaturally sedate since its Azadi March was prematurely called off, has the option to challenge and stall the government; but doing so could jeopardise its chances of finding support from other parties for early polls. Meanwhile, the government continues to insist it is here to stay and steer the ship out of a stormy political and economic environment.

Does the system know something we do not?

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2022

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