Election uncertainty

Published May 27, 2023

AS the nation remains bitterly divided, with certain forces strengthening their already suffocating grip over national life, the only hope lies in the prospect of timely elections. But, as it emerged in the Supreme Court on Thursday, there are no concrete indications that polls will actually be held in October.

While hearing the ECP’s petition appealing the apex court’s directives that provincial polls be held in Punjab on May 14, the chief justice observed that as per the Election Commission, there was no sign of polls being held in October.

He also questioned how much of a delay in elections was tolerable, and how caretaker governments could continue in office after their 90-day constitutional validity had expired.

The PDM administration needs to dispel these clouds of uncertainty and assure the nation that there will be no delay in general elections.

The administration and the ECP cannot use the post-May 9 situation — specifically political uncertainty, violence and polarisation — as excuses to indefinitely delay polls. If anything, the situation demands that a new government with a fresh mandate from the people take the reins to steer the nation out of stormy waters.

Moreover, the excuses of lack of funds and unavailability of security personnel to safeguard the election process do not hold up to scrutiny.

As the PTI noted in a separate petition to the apex court, while the government had claimed that security personnel could not be committed to election duties due to the fragile law and order situation nationally, a sufficient number were deployed to control the security situation in the aftermath of Imran Khan’s arrest.

Further, as the CJP observed, while the administration apparently did not have the money to finance the Punjab polls, the government had just doled out Rs20bn to its allied lawmakers in development funds.

Indeed, Mr Khan’s gambit to force early polls by dissolving the Punjab and KP assemblies failed miserably in its objective. But the fact remains that elections, both to the national and provincial assemblies, are the only democratic answer to Pakistan’s constitutional and political crises.

Therefore, the PDM needs to announce that polls will be called early, or that there will be no delays beyond the scheduled date in October. Promoting an ambiguous stance about polls will only fuel further uncertainty.

The PTI head has said that an “undeclared” martial law is in place, while the chief justice has pointed out that “negative forces” will spring into action and deprive the people of their rights if polls are delayed.

To prevent these grim scenarios from becoming a reality, all political actors must call a ceasefire and agree to hold polls on time, while the establishment needs to let the political process proceed unhindered.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2023

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