PML-N backs ECP on delimitation before elections as PPP reiterates demand for timely polls

Published August 25, 2023
PML-N leaders Azam Nazir Tarar, Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Sanaullah talk to media outside the ECP office in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
PML-N leaders Azam Nazir Tarar, Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Sanaullah talk to media outside the ECP office in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

As the PML-N on Friday backed the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to conduct fresh delimitation of provincial and national assemblies before elections, the PPP has reiterated its demand to hold polls within the constitutionally mandated period of 90 days.

Earlier this month, the ECP ruled out elections this year, following the notification of the latest 2023 digital census. Since the National Assembly was dissolved three days before the end of its constitutional term, Article 224 of the Constitution mandates that elections be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assembly.

But at the same time, Section 17(2) of the Elections Act states that “the commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

In line with this requirement, the ECP last week said that the process of fresh delimitation was expected to be completed by December 14 — over a month beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline for conducting general elections.

However, after the electoral body’s announcement, an official of the commission told Dawn that the electoral watchdog was not legally bound to “immediately” carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies after the official notification of census results.

The development had caused President Dr Arif Alvi to invite Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections. Responding to the invite, the CEC had said participating in such a confab would be of “scant importance” after changes to the election law.

Meanwhile, the ECP earlier this week began consultations a day ago with political parties on matters pertaining to general elections. The electoral watchdog sent identical letters to four political parties, inviting them to discuss the electoral roadmap, the delimitation of constituencies, updating electoral rolls, conduct of general elections, schedule for elections and other related matters.

The ECP met representatives of the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and the PTI on Thursday.

ECP meets PML-N delegation

Today, a PML-N delegation comprising Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Sanaullah, Azam Nazeer Tarar, Ataullah Tarar and others met CEC Raja and other ECP officials, according to a press release from the electoral watchdog.

The PML-N delegation briefed the ECP officials that the Council of Common Interests had unanimously approved the census result and its publication after all political parties had agreed on holding the upcoming polls on the basis of the new census.

The press release said the PML-N backed the delimitation schedule issued by the commission and affirmed that it was in accordance with the Constitution and the law.

The party delegation also suggested that the process of updating electoral lists should be conducted simultaneously with delimitation so that both processes were completed in the same phase and there was no delay in holding the elections.

The party further recommended that consultation on the election code of conduct should be held again, under which a ban should be imposed on hate speeches and only posters and stickers should be allowed during election campaigns to reduce the expenses of candidates.

The PML-N suggested that media campaigns should also be carried out by parties and candidates should not be allowed to hold individual campaigns.

The party also advised the ECP to assign the duties of district returning officer and returning officer to its own officials and employees.

“The CEC assured the delegation that the ECP would complete the delimitation and the updating of electoral lists together as quickly as possible. He added that the ECP would consult with political parties on the code of conduct according to the law, and after that, the code of conduct would be finalised.

“The ECP assured the delegation that elections would be transparent and impartial and all parties would have equal level playing field. He further said that strict legal action would be taken against violations of the code of conduct and monitoring wings have been strengthened for this purpose,” the press release reads.

ECP obligated to hold polls on ‘latest notified census’

Talking to the media in Islamabad after the meeting, Iqbal said: “The [general] election 2023 will take place according to the seventh census and as soon as its results are finalised, they should be sent to the ECP so it can hold elections.”

He said the Constitution had obligated the ECP to carry out delimitation in light of the “latest notified census”. Iqbal added that the delimitation process should be carried out as soon as possible so that elections could be held at the earliest.

The PML-N delegation also told reporters that the election date could be found in the 54 days after December 14 or 16 — depending on when delimitation was completed.

PPP demands elections within 90 days

Meanwhile, PPP leaders Sherry Rehman, Faisal Karim Kundi and Nayyar Bokhari reiterated their party’s call for elections to be held within 90 days.

Addressing a press conference in Karachi after the party’s central executive committee (CEC), Rehman said it was “obvious” that a political and constitutional crisis-like situation would persist in the country if the issue of elections was stretched beyond 90 days.

“Our stance from day one is that elections should be held within 90 days according to the timeframe set by the Constitution.

There is no need to unnecessarily take the country towards a political and constitutional crisis,“ she stressed.

Rehman said the PPP delegation would present the same to the ECP in its meeting with the body on August 29, after which the party would again convene a CEC meeting and determine its plan of action according to the commission’s response.

Rehman said the digital census was a “controversial” one for the party, adding that polls could not be delayed on the pretext of new delimitation if there was to be no increase in seats.

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