• Final notification of delimitations on Nov 30, 54-day election schedule to follow
• Interim minister assures ‘all-out assistance’, says ECP responsible for ‘level-playing field’
ISLAMABAD: More than a month after the premature dissolution of the National Assembly, the Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday announced that general elections would be held by the last week of January — over two months after the constitutionally mandated deadline of 90 days.
The statement of the ECP did not mention the exact date of polls, leaving room for some flexibility in its schedule expected to be released after the final notification of the delimitation exercise likely on Nov 30. Informed sources told Dawn Jan 28 would most probably be the polling day.
According to the ECP, the preliminary delimitation list will be published on September 27. After hearing the objections and suggestions on the constituencies, it said, the final list would be released on Nov 30, followed by the issuance of a 54-day poll schedule.
The announcement ended uncertainty and speculations about an indefinite delay in polls, but it still failed to satisfy several stakeholders who wanted elections within 90 days after the dissolution of the assembly as required under the Constitution.
On Sept 1, the ECP in a bid to conduct elections as soon as possible squeezed the timeline for delimitation of constituencies to complete the exercise by Nov 30, paving the way for holding elections in the last week of January 2024. The ECP’s decision to slash the timeline was based on feedback from political parties, the watchdog had said in a press release.
The National Assembly was dissolved three days before the end of its constitutional term therefore, Article 224 of the Constitution mandates that elections be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assembly by Nov 7.
Two days before the dissolution of the Assembly, the final results of the first-ever digital census were notified and the ECP subsequently decided to go for delimitation before the polls, making the conduct of elections within 90 days impossible.
The ECP’s decision raised many an eyebrow with critics noting that a legal provision cannot override the Constitution. The ECP’s latest announcement came a day after it convened a consultative meeting with political parties on October 4 on the draft code of conduct for the upcoming general polls.
It may be noted that after a recent amendment to the Elections Act, the ECP was mandated to unilaterally announce the polls date. Earlier this month, the president wrote another letter to the ECP chairman pointing out that holding elections within 90 days after the NA dissolution was a constitutional requirement and that November 6 was the ‘cut-off date’. He had also suggested to the ECP to seek guidance from the apex court.
Interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi said conducting free, fair and transparent elections was the mandate of the caretaker government.
“All-out assistance, including resources, administrative assistance and security, would be provided to the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold the general elections within the given time frame,” APP quoted the interim minister as saying.
Mr Solangi added the ECP was responsible for providing a level-playing field to all political parties.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2023