Despite ECP readiness, govt reluctant to make commitment on polls

Published June 14, 2023
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar speaks during a forum organised by the Pakis­tan Institute of Legislative Development on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy: Pildat Twitter
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar speaks during a forum organised by the Pakis­tan Institute of Legislative Development on Tuesday. — Photo courtesy: Pildat Twitter

ISLAMABAD: Though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) says it has made the necessary preparations to conduct general elections in the country at any time, it is the political parties that seem to be uncertain about the fate of polls, with the government reluctant to make any solid commitment to hold elections this year.

This was the outcome of a lengthy discussion at a for­um organised by the Pakis­tan Institute of Legislative Development (Pildat), titled: “How prepared is the ECP to hold a free and fair general election?” held here on Tuesday, which was attended by the representatives of the ECP, major political parties, civil society, and journalists.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar seemed hesitant in giving any solid commitment on holding of general elections in October or November, while lawmakers from Sindh emphatically stated that it would be difficult for them to accept the next elections on the basis of the recently-concluded “fau­lty census” and the delimitation made by the ECP on the basis of the 2017 census.

Speaking at the occasion, the law minister expressed the hope that the country would soon go into elections.

Law minister hopes govt will not have to invoke emergency; ECP official says no decision yet on whether to use RTS

The minister stated that the PML-N-led coalition had a “clear resolve” that the government was bound to follow the laws and the Constitution and its constitutional term was ending in August.

However, when moderator Aasiya Riaz of Pildat welcomed the law minister’s remarks, saying that it was good that the minister had made a “commitment that the government has no plan to extend its term and that the elections will be held on time,” Mr Tarar clarified that he believed that presently, there was no such situation.

Mr Tarar then asked the participants to pray that they would not have to invoke articles 232 or 234 of the Constitution, thus indicating that he was not completely ruling out the possibility of extending the term of the present government under special circumstances.

Article 232 provides for a “proclamation of emergency on account of war, internal disturbance” whereas Article 234 deals with the “power to issue proclamation in case of failure of constitutional machinery in a province.”

“As of today, there is no such situation,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Tarar emphasised the role of the ECP in setting the election date, underscoring its legal authority. Acknowledging the financial constraints the ECP faced in the past year, Mr Tarar stated, “Our ECP is a strengthened institution,” adding that these constraints were no longer the case.

The law minister also stated that there was a need for changing some laws and the constitution in the wake of recent political events. He said the law ministry had proposed that in future, if any legislature was dissolved before time, then the elections should be held for the remainder period, instead of five years. Similarly, he said, there were certain proposals on the issue of contesting elections on multiple seats.

Mr Tarar was of the view that had there been the system of elections under a caretaker set-up in the past, the country might not have seen the imposition of martial law after the general elections in 1977. He said the government was ready to do legislation as per recommendations of the ECP.

PTI Senator Ali Zafar stressed the need for holding the elections in October, hoping that “the optimism expressed by the law minister will turn into a reality.”

“It would be very surprising and shocking if the ECP says it doesn’t want to hold elections,” he said while criticising the ECP for filing review before the Supreme Court expressing its inability to hold the elections due to non-availability of funds and security personnel.

The PTI senator raised reservations over the ECP’s position, implying that he expected them to be more decisive in accordance with their constitutional obligations. He also asked the ECP to take notice of the “rumours” the government was planning to extend its term through a parliamentary resolution.

Mr Zafar called for a level playing field for all the parties in the next elections.

Census dilemma

Earlier, ECP Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal provided a comprehensive update on the progress made against ECP’s third strategic plan concluding in December this year. He said the ECP had achieved 90 per cent of the implementation of its strategic plan and confidently announced that the commission was fully prepared to hold general elections.

Responding to a question, the ECP official said so far there had been no decision regarding the use of the Result Transmission System (RTS) that had been prepared by Nadra in the next elections. MQM-P MNA from Karachi Abubakar questioned the legitimacy of the elections if held under the recently-concluded census.

“We talk about free and fair elections, but do not talk about free and fair census,” said the MQM-P MNA, declaring that the people of Sindh might not accept the results of the “faulty census.” He claimed that the population of Karachi had touched the 30.5 million whereas the census was showing it as 20 million.

PPP’s veteran Senator Taj Haider also supported the MQM lawmaker and said free and fair elections could not be possible without a fair census. He claimed that the population of Sindh had crossed 85m figure whereas according to the census, it was a little over 50m.

Former principal secretary to the prime minister Fawad Hasan Fawad highlighted that the ECP required the support and cooperation of the entire democratic society, citizens and parties to discharge its constitutional responsibility of holding free, fair and credible elections.

Mr Fawad said the results of the census were also critical in order to avoid interrupting the election calendar.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2023

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