Election uncertainty

Published October 27, 2023

DESPITE the Election Commission of Pakistan’s assurance that polls will be held at the end of January — which was repeated yesterday — why is the head of state not sure that the ECP will deliver? The question has been hanging heavy on the minds of those with a keen eye on the political goings-on in Pakistan ever since President Arif Alvi, during an interview, responded to a question asking whether he was confident elections will be held by end January with the suggestion that he wasn’t. He remarked, “The supreme judiciary has taken notice of the matter, [and] I expect a very reasonable decision from it”, which suggests that the matter is far from settled in his mind. The next day, the ECP issued a press statement dismissing the possibility of any further delay in the general election. It stressed that there should be no doubt that it will announce a firm schedule for elections as soon as the final delimitations are announced. “The Election Commission is fully prepared to hold elections under its action plan,” it assured.

The stakes are enormous for everyone involved, and it is not without reason that political parties are growing jittery. PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who seems to be enjoying the state’s favour, recently threw his weight behind the ECP. He described it as “the authorised institution to announce the election date” while talking to the media before his flight to Pakistan. It is unclear what the context was, but the timing of the remark seemed odd, considering that the ECP had by then already given its revised timeline for the election. With the paranoia refusing to dissipate, doubts regarding the election are expected to linger. The situation has been complicated by the fact that the state appears to be leaning too heavily to one side. The PPP believes that the caretaker set-ups have been partial to the PML-N. This “lopsidedness of caretaker governments is becoming evident with each passing day,” it recently said. The PTI agrees. An election conducted in such conditions would be very difficult to legitimise. Perhaps this is why some feel it may be put off. Considering that the ECP seems committed to its timeline, it must consider intervening to provide a more level playing field to the contesting parties. Giving all candidates an equal opportunity may help erase their misgivings.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023

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