The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued a set of guidelines to interim governments in the Centre and provinces on Tuesday, asking them to assist the electoral watchdog in holding polls in accordance with the law.

The instructions were listed in a notification, which has been issued as the country heads into an election period and the National Assembly (NA) and all four provincial assemblies in the country stand dissolved.

The notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, states that the ECP is “mandated with the constitutional duty to organise and conduct elections in terms of Article 218(3) of the Constitution and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the elections are conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”.

“It has become imperative that the election commission shall take all necessary steps under the Constitution and prevalent law for the smooth conduct of general elections,” the notification adds as it goes on to elaborate on guidelines for interim setups at the Centre and in provinces to ensure transparent elections and a level playing field for all contesting candidates and political parties.

Besides asking them to assist it in holding elections in line with the law, as provided under Section 230(1)(b) of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP has instructed interim governments to ensure compliance with all notifications, directives and provisions of Section 230 of the election law, which pertains to the functions of a caretaker government.

Recently, Section 230 of the law had come under heated debate in Parliament after an amendment to it was proposed to give additional powers to caretaker governments. The amendment, granting the caretaker government powers to take actions or decisions regarding existing bilateral or multilateral agreements and projects, was passed by a joint session of Parliament in late July and now needs the president’s assent to become a part of the law.

The ECP has further asked the caretaker governments not to post or transfer any public official after the issuance of this notification under the federal and provincial governments without the commission’s prior approval in writing.

Moreover, “ensure that all kinds of recruitments in any ministry, division, department or institution under the federal, provincial and local government[s] are banned with immediate effect, except with the prior approval of the ECP and except recruitments by the federal and provincial public service commissions and those government organisations where test/ interviews have already been conducted before this day,” the notification reads.

It also bars interim setups from announcing or executing any kind of development schemes at federal and provincial levels except those which are ongoing and approved before the issuance of this notification. Moreover, the federal, provincial and local governments shall not issue tenders of such schemes till the culmination of general elections and except with the prior approval of the ECP.

The notification further says that all development funds relating to local government institutions in provinces and cantonment boards for new schemes throughout the country shall stand frozen after the announcement of the election schedule with immediate effect and their status would remain unchanged until the announcement of election results.

However, in case of any vital scheme, the case may be referred to the ECP.

The interim setups have also been directed to ensure the immediate termination of services of all heads of the institutions appointed on a political basis and to send all such cases to the ECP for the approval of termination or otherwise.

They have been further instructed to ensure that the former prime minister and his advisers, former chief ministers along with their advisers, former federal and provincial ministers and former members of the NA and recently dissolved provincial assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan vacate their residential facilities provided by the government while official vehicles provided to them were also withdrawn.

Furthermore, the dignitaries shall be provided security/ protocol as per their entitlement and any extra deployment of security/ protocol should be withdrawn from them forthwith, the notification says.

It adds that the caretaker governments shall perform their functions and attend to day-to-day matters that are necessary to run the affairs of the federation and provinces in accordance with the law.

“The caretaker governments shall not attempt to influence the elections or do or cause to be done anything which may, in any manner, influence or adversely affect free and fair elections,” the notification reads.

It adds that “the caretaker governments, being non-political entities can take actions or decisions regarding existing bilateral or multilateral agreements or the projects already initiated under the Public Private Partnership Authority Act, 2017, the Inter-Governmental Commercial Transactions Act, 2022 and the Privatisation Commission Ordinance, 2000 under intimation to the [election] commission”.

The ECP has directed the caretaker prime minister, chief ministers or ministers or any other members of caretaker governments to “submit to the commission a statement of assets and liabilities of his spouse and dependent children as on the preceding 30th day of June on Form-B” within three days from the date of assumption of office.

Delay and delimitation

The ECP’s instructions come as the country gears up for elections, which are likely to be delayed beyond the constitutionally mandated period of 90 days.

The Constitution provides that if the assembly completes its tenure, elections are to be held in 60 days, but in case of premature dissolution — which will be the case here — this period is extended to 90 days.

After the final results of the first-ever digital census were approved earlier this month, the delay in elections is almost certain as the ECP is now required to carry out a fresh delimitation of constituencies.

The electoral body recently declared that conducting polls on fresh delimitation was not possible and that the exercise would require four to six months, making it almost certain that general elections may not be held this year.

Moreover, a Dawn report published today said a huge mismatch in the otherwise increased and decreased share of districts across the country would make the upcoming exercise to re-draw boundaries for provincial assemblies’ elections a complex one.

The report highlighted that a thorough analysis of population figures showed that unlike for National Assembly seats, fresh delimitation for the provincial assembly seats can affect dozens of districts.

The delimitation issue was also brought up during a Supreme Court hearing today where Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial said the ECP should conduct the process of delimitations transparently, stressing that it was a “matter of public interest”. He directed the ECP to resolve all issues prior to the polls.

Subsequently, the ECP issued another notification today stating that it would hold a meeting on Wednesday (tomorrow) to discuss the delimitation of NA and provincial assemblies’ constituencies and allied matters.

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