KARACHI: While the government’s actions have left little doubt in the fact that general elections will be delayed, recent remarks by two federal ministers have led further credence to speculations that a plan is in place to push the country-wide exercise beyond the constitutional timeline of 90 days.

In two separate media interactions, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, respectively, stated there was a possibility of a delay in holding the next general elections, Dawn.com reported on Tuesday.

The government has already announced that assemblies will be dissolved on August 9, following which elections should be held within 90 days of the end of the assemblies’ tenure.

However, the Council of Common Interests on Saturday approved the results of the 2023 digital census, making new delimitations mandatory, a process which is expected to take up to four months.

Sana says elections won’t be put off for ‘many months’; Asif hints at couple of month’s delay ‘on technical grounds’

Speaking to Geo News on Tuesday morning, Mr Sanaullah said 2023 was not the election year. When asked if 2023 was the year when elections would be held, the minister said, “It is an absolutely straightforward answer — no.”

When one of the hosts commented that the upcoming caretaker set-up had “acquired an unconventional significance as the one to get the role might stay for more than three months”, Mr Sanaullah insisted that there was nothing extraordinary about it.

He reiterated that under the Constitution, another general election could not be held on the 2017 census results as they had been accepted “provisionally for a single time”.

Emphasising that it was required by the Constitution to carry out the delimitation process after a census was notified, Mr Sanaullah said, “The caretaker government, while fulfilling this constitutional requirement, will carry out the delimitation process.”

The minister noted that the process takes around 120 days so there was nothing about the elections being delayed by “many months”. “As soon as this constitutional requirement of delimitation is completed, then after that, God-willing, elections will be held,” he said.

Separately, in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson aired on Monday night, Mr Asif, the defence minister, said elections were “due in November”.

He also pointed out that the National Assembly was set to be dissolved by Wednesday (August 9) evening, adding that under the Constitution polls would be held within 90 days.

“Ninety days in the deadline. One cannot go beyond 90 days. But under some conditions, the election commission has the power to delay it, because of some election problem or census problem or electoral roll problem, for a month or two but not beyond that,” he said.

When asked whether the approval of the 2023 census would result in an election delay, Mr Asif said: “I cannot speculate at the moment but it is a possibility. I won’t rule that out.”

The host then pointed out that the approval of the census came the same day that PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested in a graft case and wondered if the two developments were connected.

“No, they’re not at all connected. The census controversy was going on for the last many, many months. And we had to create a consensus between all the provinces of Pakistan so that the results are accepted by all the provinces,” Mr Asif said.

“The delay was because of this controversy, Otherwise, the result of the census has absolutely no connection with Imran.”

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2023

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