The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Sunday called for an immediate end to the “uncertainty surrounding the general elections” and called on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to promptly announce the schedule for polls.

The HRCP said in a statement that its members had expressed “immense concern” on the matter during a meeting today.

“The HRCP insists that the ECP announce an election schedule promptly such that polls are held as close as possible to the stipulated 90-day period,” the human rights organisation said.

The HRCP’s statement comes against the backdrop of the electoral watchdog ruling out elections this year, while the 90-day limit for holding polls — mandated under Article 224 of the Constitution — ends on November 9.

The ECP reasons its decision to push elections beyond November 9 on the basis of the notification of results of the new digital 2023 census and Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, which states: “The commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

In line with this requirement, the ECP initially said 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, on Friday, the ECP squee­zed the timeline for the delimitation of constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies to complete the exercise by November 30.

The ECP’s decision to squeeze the timeline for delimitation was based on feedback from political parties and meant to hold general elections “as soon as possible”, the electoral watchdog said in a press release.

Meanwhile, informed sources had told Dawn that the decision paved the way for holding elections in the last week of January 2024, unless the Supreme Court intervened — with Jan 28 as the most probable date. They had also said that in case of any practical difficulties, the election date could be moved to February 4.

In its statement issued today, the HRCP stressed that the process of delimitation of constituencies must be completed “quickly and efficiently and under no circumstances used as an excuse to delay the elections any further”.

The organisation also raised concern over the “scope for manipulating the electoral process by institutions such as Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority)” and urged the ECP to guard against this possibility.

Moreover, the HRCP said it was “greatly alarmed by the increasingly polarised environment, in which religious and sectarian divisions are being exacerbated reportedly to carve out artificial political space for far-right parties such as the TLP (Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan).”

This was an apparent reference to the inclusion of TLP in parties with whom the ECP has consulted on the electoral roadmap in recent days.

The HRCP said that the “divisive and violent tactics employed by such parties to build their political identities— particularly at the expense of religious minorities and sects— are eating into organic political and civic spaces”.

“The continuing terrorist violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also made political parties more apprehensive about campaigning in the province — a pattern we have witnessed before and must not go through again,” the commission cautioned.

On the role of the caretaker government, the HRCP said that apart from ensuring free, fair and credible elections, “the test of the current caretaker government is to see not only whether it will protect and respect people’s right to protest peacefully, but also whether it will respond to the issues that ordinary citizens are mobilising around.”

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