OF recent, leaders from the ruling PML-N have been dropping hints about a possible delay in general elections after the incumbent government completes its term in August 2023. The strongest signal in this regard came from Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, who told a TV channel that National Assembly elections could be delayed for six months to give ‘relief’ to the masses. Meanwhile, the prime minister’s special assistant on overseas Pakistanis, while talking to journalists, went even further, predicting that the NA would be given an “extension” for another year. Add to this the fact that the finance ministry has been non-committal about the release of Rs47bn to the ECP to conduct general elections, and the belief that the PDM government — or at least the PML-N, the combo’s leading party — is interested in inordinately delaying polls is strengthened.
It would be an understatement to say Pakistan stands at a delicate crossroads. Though a smooth change of command in the military has just been announced after much controversy, and, for now at least, fears about prolonged instability have lessened following the PTI’s decision to call off its sit-in, the fact is that uncertainty still clouds the air, with the economy tanking in alarming fashion. In such a scenario, to call for delaying the elections beyond August is unjustified, and may only prolong the multiplicity of crises the nation is confronted with. Therefore, the ruling coalition has two doable choices before it: complete its term, or call early polls. Of course, if the PDM government chooses to stick to its guns and waits it out till August, it has the constitutional right to do so. Yet it is also true that its performance during the last seven months has left much to be desired, and inertia affects all key state institutions, while the PTI’s lack of interest in attending Lower House sessions has rendered the NA without an effective opposition. Thus, as this paper has argued earlier, the best solution to this crisis may lie in early elections. Moreover, with the PTI ready to act on its threat of dissolving the KP and Punjab assemblies, the ruling coalition may want to prevent further chaos and uncertainty by announcing a feasible timetable for fresh polls. As for lack of funds for the ECP, it is the state’s job to provide the required money in order to pave the way for polls.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2022