ISLAMABAD: The Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) on Sunday suspended the election schedule for 37 National Assembly seats — which had fallen vacant after the resignation of PTI lawmakers — in light of the orders issued by the Islamabad, Peshawar, Sindh and Balochistan high courts.

These polls were to be held later this month.

Meanwhile, amid confusion about whether the PTI will hold its election rally in Lahore on Monday, the ECP officials are set to meet Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi today to review the opposition party’s plan and the arrangements for polls in the province scheduled for April 30.

Besides, the ECP will hold crucial meetings this week to determine the fate of general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, currently hanging in the balance even after a Supreme Court’s verdict on the matter.

ECP officials, Punjab CM meet today; PTI asks watchdog to take notice of Section 144 imposition in Lahore

PTI Chairman Imran Khan postponed the party’s rally in Lahore on Sunday after the provincial government banned public gatherings by imposing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

However, it is yet to be confirmed whether or not the former ruling party will take out its rally on Monday, as Mr Khan has to appear before the Islamabad sessions court in the Toshakhana case.

By-polls suspended

The electoral watchdog, through a notification issued on Sunday, suspended by-elections for 37 constituencies of the National Assembly.

Of these seats, by-elections were to be held on 24 seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, nine in Sindh, three in Islamabad and one in Balochistan.

The electoral process has been suspended on the orders of the Peshawar, Islamabad, Sindh and Balochistan high courts this month based on different petitions.

According to the ECP, the by-elections were postponed in light of the respective high court decisions. The by-elections were scheduled for March 16 and 19.

‘Blatant’ code violation

Meanwhile, PTI leader Babar Awan filed a petition before the ECP, demanding it set aside the imposition of Section 144 in Lahore.

He said in the petition that the election schedule had been announced and the Election Commission had already permitted political parties to undertake political activities as per law, but Punjab’s interim government “in blatant violation of ECP’s code of conduct and relevant orders” has directed Lahore’s deputy commissioner to impose Section 144 to stop the PTI rally in Lahore.

“This is the second time since the announcement of the election schedule that the Punjab interim government has led to this fascist tactic to stop Pakistan’s largest political party (PTI) from doing electoral/political activity,” the petition said.

It said that on March 8, the provincial government banned rallies and ordered a police operation on PTI workers, which led to the death of a party worker — Ali Bilal, also known as Zille Shah — and several others were injured.

The petitioner feared that the “Punjab interim government/chief minister/cabinet wants to repeat the same events even now and this high-handedness may lead to a constitutional crisis and political instability”.

One reason given by the district administration to ban public gatherings in Lahore was a Pakistan Super League (PSL) match in the city on Sunday.

However, Mr Awan said in the petition that the match was scheduled to start at 7pm, whereas the PTI rally was to be held between 2pm and 5:30pm.

Besides, he said the Supreme Court had already issued directions to the federal government and interim government of Punjab for holding of the election within 90 days.

He said it was the constitutional duty of the federation, in terms of Article 148(3) of the Constitution, “to ensure that the government of every province is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”.

“There can be no doubt that this duty includes ensuring that a general election to the assembly of every province is held, and enabled to be held, in a timely manner within the period set out in the Constitution,” the petition said.

“The ECP is requested to take notice of this illegal imposition of Section 144 in Lahore and the order may be declared null and void and without justification and the PTI may be allowed to hold election rally as per plan,” the petition added.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2023

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