ISLAMABAD: The governors of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa have declined to give dates for general elections to the provincial assemblies, advising the electoral watchdog to consult relevant authorities and take stock of the current security and economic situation before deciding in this regard.

In a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday, Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman said that since the Punjab Assembly was not dissolved by his order, clause 3 of Article 105 of the Constitution did not apply in this situation.

“In the existing security and economic situation of the country, ECP may like to consult all relevant stakeholders as the date of general elections to the provincial assembly of Punjab is fixed, so as to ensure that conditions for holding the elections in a transparent and fair manner are duly met,” Governor Rehman said.

While the Punjab governor chose to communicate with the ECP through his principal secretary, KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali opted to write directly to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.

Refer to wave of terrorism, ask ECP to consult stakeholders before announcing schedule

In his letter, Governor Ali said he dissolved the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in terms of Article 112 of the Constitution upon the advice of the chief minister. He said clause 3 of Article 105 provides that the governor of a province shall appoint a date for general elections, which are to take place as per Article 224, read with clause 3 of Article 218 of the Constitution.

“However, in view of the alarming law and order situation in the province and a series of terrorist attacks during the past few days, it would be advisable that before fixing a date for the general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan should consult and take into confidence the relevant institutions/LEAs [law enforcement agencies] as well as political parties, to ensure that conduct of general elections in a fair, free and peaceful manner in the province is possible,” the letter read.

The letter, whose copies have also been sent to the KP’s caretaker chief minister and chief sec­retary, was written late on Tue­sday night, a day after a powerful explosion ripped through a mosque in the Peshawar Police Lines area, killing more than 100 people, mostly police officials.

But even before that incident, the KP governor linked fresh polls with improvement in the province’s security and economic situation. Talking to reporters last week, he hinted at a possible delay in polls, saying political forces should focus on finding solutions to fix the financial and security situation and not the elections.

Referring to terrorist attacks in the tribal areas, he wondered whether elections could be held in Waziristan, Bannu and Lakki Marwat. “If a province demands to conduct a census first or intelligence agencies advise to postpone elections, how will the elections be held?” he asked.

However, KP Caretaker Chief Minister Azam Khan dispelled the impression of delaying polls because of the current law and order situation. Talking to reporters after a visit to the Peshawar Police Lines on Tuesday, he said that the recent bomb blasts in different areas of the province had no concern with holding the elections.

“Terrorist incidents have been occurring in southern districts, including Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Lakki Marwat, for a long time,” he said.

The provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP were dissolved on Jan 14 and Jan 18, respectively, in an attempt to pave the way for snap polls.

On Jan 24, the ECP wrote letters to the principal secretaries of Punjab and KP governors, suggesting elections in Punjab between April 9 and 13, and in KP between April 15 and 17.

The letters cited Article 224 of the Constitution requiring the holding of elections for an assembly within 90 days of its dissolution. The ECP said that under Article 105(3a) of the Constitution, the governor is mandated to fix a date for holding elections within 90 days from the date of dissolution of the assembly.

The ECP stressed that the election date might not be taken beyond April 13 in the case of Punjab and April 17 in the case of KP. Subsequently, the ECP secretary also wrote demi-official letters to the principal secretaries of the two governors on Jan 29.

A senior ECP official told Dawn the commission would deliberate on the letters received from the two governors and take a decision accordingly.

Zulqernain Tahir in Lahore and Umer Farooq in Peshawar also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2023

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