• Official says watchdog to comply with SC order if told to stop exercise
• GDA supports new timeline to redraw constituencies

ISLAMABAD: In a significant move towards the conduct of general polls “as soon as possible”, the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday squee­zed the timeline for delimitation of constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies to complete the exercise by Nov 30.

Informed sources told Dawn that the decision paves the way for holding elections in the last week of January 2024, unless the Supreme Court intervenes — with Jan 28 as the most probable date. They said that in case of any practical difficulties, the election date could move to Feb 4.

The decision to cut the duration of delimitation exercise — which under the previously announced schedule was to be completed on Dec 14 — was taken at a meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja.

When asked what will the commission do if the apex court intervened and directed it to drop the fresh delimitation plan and conduct general polls in 90 days to meet the constitutional requirement, a senior ECP official said: “We will comply with it [SC order].”

However, he said the ECP has yet to receive a copy of the Supreme Court’s judgement rejecting the commission’s petition seeking review of a verdict in a case relating to conduct of elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa following dissolution of the two provincial assemblies.

“It was not for the ECP to wring its hands and then bow under the weight of its own professed inability to persuade or cajole the executive to obey the constitutional command of Article 220 and pass an unconstitutional order of pushing forward the election by several months,” observed Justice Munib Akhtar in a detailed judgement passed on Aug 4. The ECP had filed a review petition against the judgement, but it was dismissed by the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The verdict had noted that in case of any difficulties, the ECP needs to seek relief from the apex court instead of postponing the polls on its own.

Legal experts believe that the SC judgement has laid down a principle which is bound to have implications for the upcoming general polls, due by Nov 8 under the Constitution.

The ECP’s decision to squeeze the timeline for delimitation is based on feedback from political parties and meant to hold general elections “as soon as possible”, the electoral watchdog said in a press release. “The election schedule will also be announced keeping in view the amended delimitation schedule,” it added.

The decision was announced as a two-day training for 26 members of the delimitation committees started at Pakistan Electoral Academy for Democratic Practices, Research, and Management, ECP Secretariat, on Friday. The training under the previous schedule was to continue for four days.

“During the training, the participants will learn the legal framework for delimitation of constituencies, along with international standards of delimitation and principles of delimitation,” according to the ECP.

Consultative meeting

The ECP held a consultative meeting with a delegation of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) on Friday.

The meeting was chaired by CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja. The secretary, members and other senior officers of the commission attended the meeting.

The GDA delegation comprised Fehmida Mirza, Dr Safdar Ali Abbasi, Kashif Nazamani and Ibn Mohammad. Sardar Abdul Rahim and Irfanullah Khan Marwat of the GDA attended the meeting via a video link.

The delegation affirmed full support for the commission’s new delimitation plan and said the process would serve as the foundation for transparent elections. They said the delimitation process should be completed according to the new census, and elections should be held after the new delimitation.

They also suggested that electoral lists should be revised so that the enrolment of new voters and deletion of the deceased could be ensured to make the rolls more accurate.

The delegation said transfers and postings of all provincial officers should be made in accordance with the ECP directives. They regretted that despite letters written by the CEC to the caretaker chief ministers, transfers and postings were not being made.

They also called for appointment of impartial returning officers and suggested that if possible, district election commissioners and officers from the federal services may be appointed as returning officers.

The delegation insisted that the commission must rigorously implement the action plan prepared for the polls.

Interestingly, the action plan stated that the upcoming general elections will be held on the basis of old delimitation.

The delegation asked the ECP to suspend all local governments and appoint administrators to ensure transparency in general elections.

On the occasion, the CEC said conducting transparent elections under the Constitution and the law was the responsibility of the ECP. He acknowledged GDA’s recommendations.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2023

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