• Punjab makes a case for putting off elections
• Judiciary refuses to spare officers for poll duties

ISLAMABAD: As President Arif Alvi asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday to immediately announce the date for elections to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab assemblies, Punjab joined the KP in calling for postponement of the electoral exercise.

“I am of the firm view that there are no such circumstances as may furnish any justification for delaying or postponing of elections, in fact if such postponements of constitutionally mandated elections are evaluated throughout the world in recent history, they have morphed into serious long-term setbacks to democracy,” President Dr Arif Alvi said in a letter addressed to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.

Dr Alvi said the ECP itself had already taken an appropriate constitutional step by announcing the dates for bye-elections to National Assembly seats.

The dissolution of a provincial assembly can happen either under Article 105 or Article 112.

“In either situation, election of an Assembly is to be held within 90 days of the dissolution. Such a mandate stands further fortified by Article 224(2) emphasising the holding of election in 90 days,” he said.

He said holding of elections was a primary duty of the ECP under the Constitution, citing Article 218 (3) which makes it binding on the ECP to ensure holding of fair and free election.

“Thus, it is ultimately the Commission, which if it fails to discharge its functions and duties, is to be held responsible and answerable for the violation of our Constitution,” the letter reads.

President Alvi said as the head of state, he was under oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

“It is my constitutional responsibility to remind the CEC and members of the commission about their fundamental duty as per their oath,” Dr Alvi said.

The Punjab and KP assemblies were dissolved on Jan 14 and 18, respectively, after former prime minister Imran Khan declared that PTI-led governments in the two provinces would dissolve their assemblies to pave the way for fresh elections.

President Alvi’s letter came a day after the ruling coalition insisted that the country could not afford separate polls, clearly indicating that it had no intention to hold elections in Punjab and KP within 90 days.

The ECP about threats of terrorism during the polls and shortage of police personnel. Following the footprints of KP, Punjab also made out a case for putting off the Elections on Wednesday.

During a meeting with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Zaman Akhtar proposed that elections to the National Assembly, as well the provincial legislature, be held at the same time.

He said if this were not possible, by-polls to the National Assembly and the elections for Punjab Assembly be conducted on a single date.

The meeting was informed about the budget deficit, unavailability of sufficient police personnel and polling staff.

The meeting was told that a hefty amount of Rs 42 billion would be needed for just law and order amid a “serious terror threat”.

The meeting was attended, among others, by senior officials of the Election Commission, Punjab’s police chief, the province’s finance secretary and the secretary for local government.

The chief secretary said in his briefing the expenditure would double if elections to the National and provincial assemblies were held separately. Moreover, he cautioned, law enforcement agencies won’t be able to provide foolproof security in that case.

The chief secretary said the Punjab government had started preparations for National Assembly by-elections. These included thrashing out of a security plan and installation of CCTV cameras at all sensitive polling stations.

At the same time, security arrangements have to be made for rallies and rallies during elections.

The administration will have a heavy agenda on its hands in the coming months as the census is to be conducted in March and Ramazan is just six weeks away.

“Police officers and teachers needed for election duty will be performing census duties. At the same time, board examinations and the polio campaign will make availability of staff difficult for elections.”

In addition, the chief secretary added, government employees will be needed for the coming wheat procurement season.

Last but not the least, he said, the Punjab government is facing a fiscal deficit.

Punjab IGP Dr Usman Anwar said in his briefing that terrorist threats and attacks were rising in the province and since December, 213 incidents of terrorism had been foiled.

According to intelligence reports, the police chief said, almost all districts of Punjab face heightened terror threat. “Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan are at the top of the list.”

He said there were terrorist groups in Bhakkar, Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan; likewise, major acts of terrorism have been averted in Lahore Police Lines and Mianwali. Groups of 20 to 30 people, comprising individuals from Afghanistan, have been trained to carry out acts of terror in the province, the police chief added.

Election Commission

The ECP said assured the participants that it would use all its resources to hold elections. A meeting to work out arrangements would be called soon and a decision would be taken in keeping with requirements of public security.

Judiciary says no

In a related development, the judiciary has refused to spare officers for elections duty. “As we speak, as many as 1,312,480 (over 1.3 million) are pending adjudication in courts throughout Punjab.

“If the services of a majority of these officers are placed at the disposal of the Election Commission of Pakistan, this pendency will mount manifold and the ultimate sufferers will be the poor,” a letter written by the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) Registrar, Irfan Ahmad Saeed, to ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan said.

PTI plea

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) has asked the ECP to hold by-polls in 33 National Assembly constituencies on March 19 (Sunday) instead of March 16 since the latter is a working day.

In a letter to the ECP Secretary, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar said the turnout would be low if polls were held on a working day.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023

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