ISLAMABAD: The defence ministry on Tuesday requested the Supreme Court to recall its April 4 order that had fixed May 14 as the election date for the Punjab Assembly.

The request was made through an application along with a report, laid before the Supreme Court in compliance with its directives to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and other departments to furnish reports after releasing Rs21 billion to the ECP for holding elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies.

It is likely that the three-member bench would take up these reports in chambers on Wednesday (today) and the matter is likely to be taken up in the open court for hearing on Wednesday or Thursday.

The defence ministry, in its application, requested the apex court to issue directives that general elections to the national and all provincial assemblies be held simultaneously upon completion of the terms of national as well as Sindh and Balochistan assemblies.

Defence ministry says armed forces will be available for election duty by Oct; ECP warns against ‘staggered polls’; matter may be taken up in open court today

The report contained, for the most part, the same contentions which the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence, director general of military operations and the defence secretary presented to the chief justice and two other judges during a nearly three-hour in-chamber briefing on Monday, as well as the in-camera briefing earlier given to parliament.

The report also highlighted the need of holding the elections on the same day in view of the heightened security situation in the country, saying that the armed forces would be able to carry out election duties by early October.

“Due to the prevalent security situation and counter-terrorism operations being carried out in KP and Balochistan as well as the intelligence-based operations in Punjab and Sindh, the armed forces, Rangers, Frontier Constabulary and other forces are not logistically available to be repositioned and re-posted for providing election security, twice in a span of six months,” the report said.

“Significant time is required to prepare the members of the armed forces for the election duty, given much of the force has been actively engaged in operations for a considerable period of time,” the application said, adding the security situation in Punjab and Sindh has been stable in the light of the efforts of the ongoing operations in KP and Balochistan, respectively.

Therefore, any diversion of troops from KP and Balochistan will result in directly affecting the security situation in Punjab and Sindh, the application explained.

In its report, the ECP informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the staggering of elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was not feasible since it involves significant expenditures compared to holding of polls on the same day.

The incidents of influencing results through rigging in the next phase may also increase, the ECP feared, adding that the staggering of elections also increases the risk of violence as miscreants have more chances to commit and plan attacks, rather than a one-day limited window of opportunity.

The ECP emphasised that the prevailing political polarisation needs political consensus to bring the political temperature down. From the election point of view, political polarisation can be the triggering effect which could lead to a spiral of violence and increase the risk to the safety of the public during the poll. It is essential that some guardrails and red lines be developed for tolerance and for balance between contesting political parties and candidates.

The ECP noted that in case the Supreme Court directs the holding of staggered elections, the conduct of the election would be possible in six phases as the re-alignment of forces from one location to another for the next phase of the election will take approximately one month with additional burden on the public exchequer.

This staggered election will go beyond even Oct 8, 2023 — a date earlier fixed by the ECP as poll date because of six phases, the report explained.

On the other hand, the finance ministry said that in the wake of the rejection on part of the National Assembly to a government-sponsored motion to grant Rs21b to the federal government for meeting expenditure, other than charged, during the financial year ending June 30, 2023, in respect of the ECP for holding the elections in Punjab and KP, it was difficult to sanction the release of the funds.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2023

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