ISLAMABAD: Assuring the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) that the process to redraw the constituencies of national and provincial assemblies will be completed ‘as soon as possible’, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday promised their delegations in separate meetings that general polls would be conducted immediately after the constitutional exercise.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, who separately consulted Dr Farooq Sattar-led Muttahida delegation and Ameerul Azeem-led JI delegation on a roadmap to general elections, said political parties would also be consulted on a code of conduct for polls.

While the MQM delegation that also comprised Javed Hanif, Zahid Malik and Yasir Ali claimed the party was on the same page with the ECP on elections after fresh delimitation despite having reservation over census issue, the JI delegation that also included Dr Fareed Ahmad Paracha, Prof Ibrahim, Mian Mohammad Aslam, Mohammad Nasrullah and Raja Arif Sultan criticised the ECP decision to consult the parties only after the announcement of delimitation schedule.

Both meetings were also attended by ECP members, secretary and senior officers.

MQM, JI assured of elections ‘immediately after’ redrawing constituencies; both parties want spending limit on poll campaigns

The two parties had reservations over possible delay in holding of elections within the 90-day constitutional deadline. They also suggested the commission to enforce a spending limit for political parties in relation to expenses of their election campaigns.

According to a press release issued by the ECP, the MQM delegation endorsed ECP’s decision to go for fresh delimitation before elections. The Muttahida leaders said the party also had reservations over the 2017 census results, yet new census was conducted. They said since Karachi’s population had ‘substantially increased’ due to an ongoing population influx from other parts of the country, fresh delimitation was essential.

The MQM-P also called for updating the electoral rolls and asked the ECP to ensure transparency in the electoral process.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, senior MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar emphasised that all the constitutional requirements must be met for elections. He said elections should be held on the basis of new constituencies, but there should not be any unnecessary delay in elections.

“A transparent delimitation is an important prerequisite for transparent polls,” he remarked.

He said under the Constitution and the Elections Act, delimitation of constituencies was necessary after the new census but added, “we don’t want elections to be unnecessarily delayed. If delimitation can take place in 120 days, all other steps should be completed soon as well”.

On same page

He said that no one should be allowed to doubt anyone’s intentions, adding that his party and the ECP were on the same page on conduct of elections after fresh delimitation. The fresh delimitation, he stressed, should be wrapped up within the shortest possible time. He alleged that Karachi’s population had been ‘deliberately undercounted’ in the past.

He pointed out that during six years, Karachi’s population increased by 27pc (i.e. by seven million) which is the maximum increase despite the fact that the mega city also faces a major influx of people from all other parts of the country as well. In reply to a question, he said transparency in delimitations was the first guarantee towards free and transparent elections.

In response to their proposals, he said, the ECP assured them that it would fulfill all constitutional prerequisites within the shortest possible time. He said after having agreed to the new census approval at the Council of Common Interests (CCI) meeting, there should be no politics over the issue. The PTI, he recalled, had insisted that elections should be held on the basis of new delimitations after the new census but then appeared restive despite the constitutional requirements.

In reply to another query, he said the civil administration and the police in Sindh had been siding with the previous ruling party, PPP. He said the Karachi mayor should be ‘neutral’.

“We also talked with the Election Commission about pre-election and post-election rigging,” he said, adding that the ECP summoned the chief secretary and police chief of Sindh on Tuesday.

JI’s delegation

While criticising the ECP decision to initiate consultative process only after the announcement of delimitation schedule, the JI leaders said political parties should have been consulted at an earlier stage.

They were of the opinion that an election schedule should have come along with the announcement of delimitation schedule, to remove any misgivings. They said the previous government should have completed census on time and notified its results thus enabling the ECP to complete delimitation on time.

The JI also proposed setting limits for poll expenditure of political parties. The party called for strict action against those who violate the code of conduct, to prevent all mafias from indulging in poll rigging.

Talking to the media, JI leaders Ammeerul Azeem and Dr Farid Paracha said they had apprised the commission of their reservations over possible delay in holding of elections within the 90-day constitutional deadline and said the schedule of elections should have been given along with the schedule of delimitation. Dr Paracha alleged the dissolution of the assembly only days before the expiry of term was done with ‘mala fide’ intent.

He said his party asked the ECP to ensure that polls were held in a transparent manner, with a certain limit set for election expenditures. “The Election Commission should start the process of deploying its staff to monitor the elections,” he said.

The JI also shared their concerns about electoral rolls. However, it alleged, the ECP claimed it was ‘helpless’. The leaders were of the opinion that the ECP should be ‘autonomous’ in that it should take suo motu notice instead of waiting for complaints before taking actions.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2023

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