• By-election on more vacant seats likely in April
• Schedule for seven seats to be vacated by Imran will be issued later
• No by-polls on seats falling vacant after April 12

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would hold by-elections on 86 National Assembly seats in March, likely to be followed by by-polls on more constituencies in April, an official said on Sunday.

However, the schedule for the seven seats won by PTI chief Imran Khan could only be issued after he decides which of them he wants to retain, an ECP official told Dawn.

He explained that und­er the law, Mr Khan — whose victory on seven National Assembly seats that he won in October had been notified on Jan 19 — had a month to decide which seat to retain.

The victory notification — earlier withheld after Mr Khan failed to submit details of by-poll expenses within the stipulated time — was issued hours after the Election Commission announced a reserved verdict condoning the delay earlier this month.

Under the law, contesting candidates should submit details of election expenses to the ECP within 10 days after the polling day, and a failure may lead to disqualification. The ECP, however, is empowered to condone the delay.

The official said Mr Khan had been disqualified in the Toshakhana case by the ECP and his seat from NA-95 had been declared vacant, but the notification had been suspended by a court of law.

“So, technically, Imran Khan currently holds eight National Assembly seats,” he said.

Mr Khan, according to the electoral watchdog official, had the time to decide by Feb 18 which seat he wants to keep; in case he failed to do so, all the seven seats except for the last one he won from NA-45 would stand vacant.

He said that since the terms of the assemblies — except for the already dissolved provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — would expire on Aug 12, no by-polls would take place to fill the seats falling vacant after April 12.

He referred to Article 224(4), which says that when — except by the dissolution of the National Assembly or a provincial assembly — a seat in any assembly has become vacant not later than 120 days before the term of that assembly is due to expire, an election to fill the seat shall be held within 60 days from when the seat fell vacant.

The October by-polls were held on nine seats after National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, like he did earlier this month, accepted resignations of some of the PTI lawmakers who resigned en masse in April after Mr Khan was deposed as prime minister through a confidence vote in parliament.

Mr Khan then ran for eight of those vacant seats and emerged victorious on seven of them after losing one seat to PPP’s Abdul Hakeem Baloch in Karachi’s Malir.

The seven constituenci­es bagged by the PTI chief were NA-22 (Mar­dan), NA-24 (Charsadda), NA-31 (Pesh­awar), NA-108 (Faisa­l­­abad), NA-118 (Na­n­kana Sahib), NA-239 (Korangi), and NA-45 (Kurram).

The ninth seat — NA-157 (Multan) — was contested by PTI’s Meher Bano Qureshi, daughter of party leader Shah Mah­mood Qureshi. However, she was defeated by PPP’s Ali Musa Gilani, son of former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Earlier this week, the ECP announced the schedule for election on 33 National Assembly seats, setting March 16 as the by-polls date.

The seats were vacated after the National Assem­bly speaker swiftly moved to accept the resignations of PTI lawmakers and AML chief Sheikh Rashid, pending since April 2022, in an apparent bid to scuttle the opposition’s purpo­r­ted plan to bring a confid­ence motion against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Following the piecemeal acceptance of the resignations of 113 members of the PTI this month, including 86 members from the general seats, the ECP de-notified 35 each on Jan 17 and Jan 20, and 43 others on Jan 25.

The schedule for by-elections on the 33 general seats of the de-notified members has already been issued setting March 16 as the poll date and in the rest of 53 constituencies the schedule for polls during March will be shortly issued, the ECP official said.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2023

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