ISLAMABAD: The fate of general elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assemblies still hangs in the balance with the relevant quarters seemingly reluctant to cooperate with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) despite clear orders of the Supreme Court in the matter.

Informed sources told Dawn on Thursday that officials of the Finance Division, in a meeting with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, continued their mantra of paucity of funds and a financial crunch, while officials from the interior ministry also informed the ECP about a shortage of police and civil armed forces.

Sources said that around Rs20 billion was required for the upcoming polls in Punjab and KP, but their availability was in doubt and only about Rs5bn had so far been released. They said Rs65bn would be required for general elections in the country.

During the meeting, the finance secretary said the country was faced with an unprecedented economic crisis and it was under an IMF programme, which has set strict targets for maintaining fiscal discipline and deficit.

The commission, on the other hand, pointed out that holding of general polls was a constitutional obligation and referred to the Supreme Court’s recent judgement. The commission asked the official to seek instructions from the government and get back at the earliest. ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan told the meeting that 297,000 additional security personnel in Punjab and 56,000 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be required for the polls.

The interior secretary was asked by the commission to contact the army, Rangers and other law enforcement agencies and ask them to make arrangements for the required force.

ECP officials will now meet with representatives of the IB, ISI and the CTDs of the two provinces today (Friday), while a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Defence and Directorate General of Military Operations is also scheduled for the same day to finalise arrangements.

ECP has also called a meeting with the inspectors general of police and chief secretaries of the two provinces next week.

PTI leader meets CEC

Meanwhile, a delegation of PTI leaders, led by Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, met CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja at the ECP Secretariat and conveyed its concern over the ‘illegal steps’ being taken by the caretaker chief minister of Punjab.

The delegation specifically called into question the imposition of Section 144 in Lahore after the announcement of the election schedule.

The PTI delegation called for steps to ensure a level playing field for general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies.

The commission assured the delegation that the matter of allowing public rallies for elections would be taken up with the caretaker chief minister. The ECP also held out an assurance that it would take all possible steps to ensure a level-playing field for all the contestants.

The PTI delegation also urged the ECP to again approach the judiciary for acquiring services of judicial officers to serve as district returning officers and returning officers, as this would add to political parties and voters’ confidence in the poll process. Later, talking to journalists, the PTI leader made it clear that his party would move the court for contempt of court if the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa went against the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s recent verdict on provincial assembly elections.

Mr Qureshi said PTI Chairman Imran Khan had tasked the PTI team with engaging the commission on one-point agenda and that was to ask the ECP to ensure holding of fair, free and credible polls in the country. “Today’s meeting was held in a very cordial way and details of it will be shared with the PTI chairman. I am going back satisfied,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2023

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