Amid thin attendance, Senate passes resolution seeking delay in elections

Published January 5, 2024
Senator Dilawar Khan presents resolution seeking delay in elections in Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Senator Dilawar Khan presents resolution seeking delay in elections in Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

With the February 8 general election just a little over a month away, the upper house of Parliament on Friday passed a resolution seeking to delay the polls due to security concerns.

PML-N Senator Afnan Ullah Khan opposed the non-binding resolution, which was moved by independent Senator Dilawar Khan during a session with only 15 lawmakers in attendance. The upper house of the Parliament has a total of 100 members.

As he read the resolution out loud, Dilawar said the Constitution upheld the right to vote for every citizen of Pakistan and the Election Commission of Pakistan was bound to conduct free and fair polls contingent upon inclusivity and ensuring the participation of all regional people.

“The vote turnout in colder areas remains notably high during the moderate weather conditions. January and February are recognised as the coldest months in the majority of the areas in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.

Dilawar noted that various political parties had expressed reservations about facing difficulty in ensuring participation in colder areas during the electoral process.

He expressed “great concern” on recent attempts on the lives of JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, former lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, and other political figures.

“The Ministry of Interior has conveyed serious threats to the lives of prominent politicians increasing the challenges faced by political parties in exercising their right to a free and fair election,” Dilawar said.

He further highlighted that there had been a spike in attacks on security forces and citizens, particularly in KP and Balochistan. “The intelligence agencies have warned of militant attacks threats on election rallies in both provinces,” he said.

The senator said alerts had been issued by intelligence agencies indicating imminent threats of militant attacks on election rallies, which could have a potential impact on the safety of citizens and the democratic electoral process.

“Cognisant of the resurgence of Covid-19 in the country and the health sector’s concerns about the potential further spread reaffirm that while holding the judgment of the Supreme Court regarding the election date in the highest esteem, the Senate of Pakistan, being the defender of the rights of the federating units is obligated to ensure the constitutional guarantees and eliminate fears of the smaller provinces, especially vulnerable geographical territories.

“The Senate of Pakistan hereby resolves that the conduct in elections without addressing legitimate concerns, facilitating sufficient opportunities for election campaign and guaranteeing the safety of politicians and citizens would amount to violation of fundamental rights,” Dilawar added.

The election schedule may be postponed to facilitate the “effective participation of people from all areas of Pakistan and belonging to all political shades”, he demanded, adding that the delay aimed at upholding constitutional rights to political participation.

“The ECP is urged to promptly implement the postponement and ensure that all necessary arrangements are in place to facilitate the smooth conduct of elections and the revised date.

“The process of filing nomination papers and scrutiny shall continue with the revised extended timelines. The ECP shall engage proactively with relevant stakeholders, political parties and communities to address their concerns and foster an environment conducive to free and fair elections,” Dilawar said, adding that the house was confident in the ability of the electoral watchdog to oversee the revised poll schedule.

The Senate Secretariat later issued a notification regarding the resolution’s approval.

It requested the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to take necessary action and submit a report to the secretariat within two months on the resolution’s central demands.

‘Baloch and Pakhtun are dying’

Immediately after the resolution was passed, PML-N Senator Afnanullah said the security situation in the country was indeed not good but highlighted that the conditions were worse in 2008 and 2013 when elections were held.

“Will you delay elections on the pretext of weather and security?” he asked. “Why didn’t you say these things in 2008 and 2013? I want to keep this forward on record that general elections were held twice in February,” the senator said, alleging that “boot polish” had once again begun.

Afnanullah questioned if Pakistan could be run without constitutional institutions. “Is this what you want? You don’t want a Parliament in the country?” he asked.

He said that several people wanted the elections to be delayed because of “personal benefits”.

Meanwhile, independent Senator Hidayatullah Khan said he had registered nine first information reports in the past two weeks over threats he had received.

“The provincial candidate of the JUI-F escaped a bomb blast yesterday. We need to look at the situation with an open mind,” he stressed, claiming that pamphlets by the outlawed Daesh had been distributed in Bajaur district.

“If there is consensus that elections can be delayed, what will happen? Does any party have anything against terrorism in their manifestos? At least tell this to the nation first,” Hidayatullah said.

“Chairman sahib, if this house has passed a resolution, it should be valued,” he emphasised. “We are dying, the Baloch and Pakhtun are dying, but no one cares. We don’t have the strength to pick up any more bodies,” the senator lamented.

Addressing Afnanullah, Hidayatullah stated: “Your area is peaceful, you have been provided with a smooth level playing field. But value those who are dying every day. Balochistan and Fata are slipping from your hands.”

On the other hand, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) Senator Manzoor Ahmed said there was no denying that Pakistan’s security and economic situation had worsened over time.

“We cannot ignore terrorism and if we do so, the nation won’t forgive us. The rise in terrorism in KP in the last few days is in front of us. If we close our eyes, the damage will be more,” he said.

Ahmed mentioned the killing of six barbers in North Waziristan recently, highlighting that there were several areas in Balochistan and KP where people thought twice before leaving their houses. “I salute the people who contest election in these areas.”

The senator said he supported the resolution, adding that delaying elections for six to eight months would not be problematic.

It should be noted that in November Dilawar had also moved a resolution urging the Supreme Court to “reconsider” its verdict of declaring “unconstitutional” the military trial of civilians for their alleged role in attacks on army installations on May 9. The resolution was tabled when a majority of members were absent and supported only by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) senators.

Dilawar says delay could be ‘two to four months’

Talking to Dawn.com about criticism aimed at the resolution, Senator Dilawar said senators from KP and Balochistan had raised concerns regarding the increase in terrorism in the two provinces and the impossibility of elections in such an environment.

He said a group of senators had then consulted each other and agreed that as ensuring elections within 90 days after an assembly’s dissolution was a constitutional requirement, so was ensuring the fundamental right to vote for every citizen.

He pointed to weather conditions and threats to politicians, saying that was why the group of lawmakers had deemed it necessary if elections could be delayed for an “appropriate time” of “two to four months so the weather improves somewhat”.

PPP issues show-cause notice to senator for supporting resolution

 PPP Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi in the Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
PPP Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi in the Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Meanwhile, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bukhari issued a show-cause notice to Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi on the instructions of the top party leadership for the lawmaker’s support of the resolution, including a speech in its favour.

“It is your knowledge that leadership and the party are of firm opinion that the election be held on the date given by the ECP, thus you supported a resolution which is against the policy and direction of the party leadership,” the notice reads.

It said Tangi violated the party leadership’s direction and policies.

The senator was asked to file a reply within a week as to why disciplinary action should not be taken against him.

Solangi says no signal from ‘any quarters’ on elections delay

Meanwhile, caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi said while talking to the media outside the Parliament House: “So far, no signal has been received from any quarters regarding postponement of elections.”

He added that there were no directives from the prime minister or the federal cabinet for delay in general elections.

Only the ECP, he said had the constitutional authority to postpone the elections.

Solangi said he did not get a chance to give arguments in the resolution on the postponement of the elections.

“According to Article 218(3) of the Constitution, it is the power of the ECP to conduct elections, give a date or change the date for elections,” he said.

“We cannot interfere in the affairs of a constitutional body.”

Acknowledging that the problems mentioned in the resolution were the real problems, he said that these problems had existed before in the history of the country’s parliamentary politics and elections.

Solangi maintained that it was the government’s responsibility to look into the issues of harsh weather and other matters, including providing security.

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