• PPP says commission’s schedule ‘matter of concern and disappointment’
• Lawyers threaten 2007-like mass movement if elections are put off beyond 90 days

ISLAMABAD: A day after it effectively stated that elections cannot be held in 2023, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) came under fire from political leaders, lawyers bodies and civil society for using delimitation “as an excuse for delaying the nationwide exercise”.

On Thursday, ECP issued the schedule to carry out delimitation as per the Digital Census 2023, notified by the PDM government days before it dissolved the National Assembly.

According to the timeline, the process of fresh delimitation of national and provincial assembly constituencies will be completed by December 14, over a month beyond the 90-day deadline for conducting general elections.

PPP has criticised the electoral watchdog for announcing a delimitation schedule stretching beyond the constitutional deadline of 90 days and called for timely elections.

The party’s vice president, Senator Sherry Rehman said the ECP’s schedule for delimitation was “a matter of significant concern and disappointment”.

Lending support to the move by the PDM government — in which PPP was an ally — to dissolve the assembly early, she added it was “strategically aimed at providing ample time to the ECP for the preparations”.

“PPP had endorsed elections under new census in the Council of Common Interests (CCI) meeting because it was agreed that existing seats would remain unchanged, ensuring no unnecessary postponement of elections.”

The senator demanded the ECP announce the election date in accordance with the provisions of Article 224 of the Constitution.

She was referring to the constitutional provision that binds the ECP to conduct the general elections within 90 days of the assembly’s dissolution.

‘Violation of Constitution’

Another PPP leader Mian Raza Rabbani said ECP’s announcement to complete the delimitation process on December 14 violated Article 224.

In order to meet the constitutional requirement, the timeline for delimitation should have been squeezed, the former Senate chairman added.

“If the ECP is short of personnel for the delimitation process [it] could have asked the federal and provincial governments to provide additional staff to complete the task expeditiously and hold elections within ninety days.”

Lawyers body condemns ECP

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has also expressed serious reservations and strongly condemned the ECP for “delaying the general elections beyond the stipulated 90-day period”.

A statement by the top regulatory body of lawyers stated that the schedule for redrawing constituencies, issued by the commission, was “a tactic to delay the polls”.

The statement was jointly issued by PBC Vice-Chairman Haroonur Rashid and Executive Committee Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha.

They said it was the ECP’s duty to conduct free, fair and transparent elections within the stipulated period.

Later Syed Amjad Shah, a PBC member, told Dawn that though they support the statement, the council members will still hold a meeting next week to assess the situation.

After taking stock of the situation, we may decide to go for a lawyer’s movement similar to that in 2007, launched for the restoration of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and other judges, Mr Shah added.

Civil society’ reaction

Two civil society bodies, Pattan Development Organisation and Coalition 38, have also unanimously passed a resolution demanding the ECP not to use the Census 2023 for new delimitation of constituencies on multiple grounds.

They claimed the CCI meeting on Aug 5 “lacked constitutional legitimacy” as two of its members — chief ministers of KP and Punjab — attended the meeting in a caretaker capacity.

The Constitution doesn’t allow caretaker chief ministers to take any policy decision, the resolution stated.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023

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