ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP’s) silence on date for general elections and timelines of the fresh delimitation has raised alarm, strengthening the fears that the caretakers had been brought in for a longer time.

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) had approved the results of the 2023 digital census on August 5, followed by official notification of the results two days later, signifying the possibility of a delay in the general elections beyond this year. The ECP had met on August 7 to consider future course of action in view of the official notification, and sou­ght a briefing from the legal team next day. There is, however, a complete silence on ECP’s front since then as the clock continues to tick.

It was now six days since the dissolution of the National Assembly, said former Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani on Tuesday. “The clock is ticking on the constitutional requirement under Article 224, Constitution, 1973, of holding elections within 90 days,” he noted while talking to reporters. He said it was canny that the ECP had issued no comprehensive statement with reference to or dealing with the holding of general elections.

He stressed that the ECP should immediately, categorically, state the time required by it, for the delimitation of constituencies after the digital census. “The Election Commission should not take this as a routine matter nor should it keep the precedence of Punjab and KP Assemblies before it,” he stressed.

Commission issues guidelines for caretaker govts in centre, provinces

He warned that a delay in the holding of general elections, within the constitutional period will have serious consequences for the Federation and such consequences shall rest on the shoulders of ECP, should it not act immediately to fulfill its constitutional mandate.

Answering a question, he said while fresh delimitation was a constitutional requirement, conduct of general polls within 90 days was a constitutional requirement. He said since the delimitation exercise would only make some intra provincial changes, it was possible to redraw boundaries by squeezing the timelines followed by timely elections. “The polls should not be delayed for even a single day”, he remarked.

Deliberations

A senior ECP official, when contacted, said deliberations on delimitation were still underway. He said the requirement of Article 224 and legal obligation of conducting delimitation were being thoroughly examined. He was of the opinion there would be implications if polls were held without fresh delimitation, but had little apprehensions about any implications if the constitutional requirement of holding polls within 90 days was not met.

He said the ECP was expected to take a final decision on delimitation today (Wednesday).

Guidelines for caretakers

In a related development the ECP with a view to ensure transparent election and to provide a level playing field for all contesting candidates and political parties, has directed the caretaker governments at the federal and provincial levels to assist it to hold elections in accordance with law as provided under section 230(1)(b) of the Elections Act, 2017.

A detailed directive, a copy of which is available with Dawn, seeks the caretakers to ensure the compliance of all the notifications, directives and the provisions as laid down in Section 230 of the Act, not to post or transfer any public official under the federal government and the provincial governments without prior approval of the ECP in writing as laid down in Clause 2(f) of Section 230 of the Elections Act, 2017.

The interim administrations have also been asked to ensure that all kinds of recruitments in any ministry, division, department or institution under the federal, provincial governments and local governments are banned, 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 and interviews have already been conducted earlier.

The guidelines for the caretaker governments bar them 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 commission.

The ECP 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 for approval.

The interim governments 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 commission for the approval of termination or otherwise. 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 commission says 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 commission.

The electoral body 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.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2023

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