PM Shehbaz promises timely elections, sans exact date

Published July 13, 2023
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks at the launching ceremony of the Pakistan Endowment Fund for Education in Islamabad on Wednesday. — PID photo
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks at the launching ceremony of the Pakistan Endowment Fund for Education in Islamabad on Wednesday. — PID photo

• PM Shehbaz says ECP will decide whether polls are to be held in Oct or Nov
• Coalition partners yet to take a decision on question of early dissolution of assembly
• 67 amendments proposed in elections law, draft likely to be finalised next week

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s categorical statement that he would leave the government on completion of the five-year term of the National Assembly in August has made clear, to some extent, the intentions of the rulers regarding elections in the country this year, but there is still a question mark on the timing of the polls.

Speaking at the launching ceremony of the Pakistan Endowment Fund for Education on Wednesday, the prime minister declared that the term of his government would end next month.

He, however, did not clear the confusion about whether the coalition partners would go for the normal dissolution of the National Assembly on completion of its term on August 12, or he would advise the president for an early dissolution.

According to Article 224 of the Constitution, “A general election to the National Assembly or a provincial assembly shall be held within a period of sixty days immediately following the day on which the term of the assembly is due to expire, unless the Assembly has been sooner dissolved”. In case of early dissolution, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is bound to hold the general elections within a period of ninety days after the dissolution, according to Article 224(2).

The provincial assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan also held their first sessions on August 13, 2018, so the term of these provincial assemblies also end with the National Assembly.

“I assure you that the term of our government will be over on August 14. The elections will be held either in October or Nove­mber, it will be decided by the ECP,” PM Shehbaz said at the ceremony.

But the five-year constitutional term of the present National Assembly will actually expire at midnight on August 12.

A senior official of the National Assembly Secretariat, when contacted, said the assembly would formally stand dissolved on August 13 and there was no provision in the Constitution, except imposition of emergency in the country under Article 232 to extend the term of the legislature.

But according to a key member of the federal cabinet, the prime minister had mentioned the August 14 date “only in the context of the country’s Independence Day”.

The minister said that at subsequent functions, the prime minister clarified and declared that he would hand over the government to the caretakers “upon completion of the constitutional term”.

The assertion from PM Shehbaz, who is also the president of the PML-N, has come for the first time amid speculations in various political and journalistic circles about a possible delay in the elections as well as statements of various leaders belonging to coalition partners, including JUI-F, seeking timely polls. However, there was no official word from the ruling PML-N in this regard.

Besides, mainstream media has also been reporting contradictory statements from various leaders of the coalition parties regarding the timing of the general elections. Federal Minister for Commerce Naveed Qamar, who belongs to the PPP, recently stated that the assembly should be dissolved on August 8 to enable the ECP sufficient time to hold elections in November.

However, another cabinet member belonging to the PPP, claimed that there had been no decision in the party about the date for the dissolution of the NA and that the statement of Mr Qamar was his “personal opinion or suggestion”.

Another key cabinet member belonging to the ruling PML-N told Dawn that the date of the assembly’s dissolution would be finalised by the coalition partners “very soon.”

“It will be a collective decision of the PDM and other coalition parties,” the minister said.

Changes to elections law

Sources said that a meeting of the heads of the coalition parties would soon be held to finalise the time of the elections. The government, they said, also had a plan to make amendments to the elections laws and a bill in this regard was expected to be tabled during the farewell session of the assembly which would be held later this month.

The draft of the proposed law is presently under consideration by the special parliamentary committee on electoral reforms headed by former NA speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. The committee is expected to finalise the draft suggesting some key changes to the election laws in its meeting on Thursday (today).

The sources said the committee members had suggested an increase in the limit of the election expenses by the candidates from Rs4 million to Rs10 million for the National Assembly seat and Rs2 million to Rs4 million for the provincial seat.

Besides this, they said, some of the members of the committee had suggested that a time should be allocated for the announcement of the poll results and the presiding officer should be asked to explain the reason for the delay in the announcement of the election results.

The amendments also proposed criminal action against the election staff who were found involved in rigging, with sentences ranging from 6 months to 3 years.

After the meeting, Mr Sadiq told reporters as many as 67 proposed amendments were in the elections act.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2023

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