ISLAMABAD: Still coping with the post-poll challenges amid rigging allegations, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is now gearing up to hold the election for the office of the country’s president by March 9, two days before the retirement of half of the senators after completing their six-year term, Dawn has learnt.

“The president will be elected by the present senators after setting up of all the four provincial assemblies,” a senior PPP office-bearer said, adding that the election could take place on March 9 or 10.

The six-party alliance, set to form a coalition government at the Centre under the PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, has already announced Asif Ali Zardari as its consensus candidate for the country’s top constitutional office.

Mr Zardari previously served as the president from September 2008 to 2013 after the resignation of the military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

Six-party alliance has announced Zardari as its candidate for top constitutional office

Article 41(4) of the Constitution says that “election to the office of president shall be held not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of the president in office: Provided that, if the election cannot be held within the period aforesaid because the National Assembly is dissolved, it shall be held within thirty days of the general election to the Assembly”.

Since the general elections were held on Feb 8, the presidential election is required to be conducted by March 9, just two days before the retirement of half of the 100-member Senate.

The sources said the Senate elections were also due in the first week of March, but because of the delay in the general elections of the National and provincial assemblies, the Senate elections will now be held either in the last week of March or the first week of April which means the upper house will remain dysfunctional and incomplete for some period.

According to a PPP leader, it is because of the upcoming presidential election and to ensure Mr Zardari’s win that the party has stopped its two senators, Nisar Khuhro and Jam Mahtab Dahar, from taking the oath as MPAs in the Sindh Assembly.

According to the formula applied for the president’s election, the vote of a senator is counted as a single vote, whereas in the Sindh Assembly, one vote will be equal to nearly four votes. In this way, Mr Zardari will get benefit in the presidential elections.

Incumbent President Dr Arif Alvi is already on an extended tenure after completing his five-year term on Sept 9 last year.

Article 44(1) of the Constitution says that the president will hold office for a term of five years from the day he assumes charge, but he continues to hold the office until a successor is chosen.

Dr Alvi is the country’s fourth democratically elected president to complete the five-year term. The three presidents before Dr Alvi who completed their full terms were Chaudhary Fazal Elahi (fifth president, from 1973 to 1978), Asif Ali Zardari (11th, from 2008 to 2013), and Mamnoon Hussain (12th, from 2013 to 2018).

Therefore, Dr Alvi is the third consecutive president to have a full term and the first one to have an extended term due to an incomplete electoral college, which comprises the National Assembly, Senate and the four provincial assemblies.

The term-wise data of senators suggests that the PML-N and the PPP stand to lose a large chunk of their members — 69 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively — as they retire on March 11 after completing their terms.

But after Feb 8 polls, both the PML-N and PPP will definitely be able to add to their tally in the Senate. The PTI, however, will be at a definite disadvantage if it fails to conduct the intra-party elections before the Senate polls, and it may have to depend on the SIC to get representation in the upper house of the parliament.

Up until now, the total strength of the Senate has been 100, including 23 members each from the four federating units and four each from erstwhile Fata and Islamabad.

The 23 seats allocated to a province comprise 14 general seats, four reserved for women, four for technocrats and one for a minority member.

This time around, though, only 96 members will grace the chamber as the representation of the erstwhile tribal areas will end following their merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under the 25th Constitutional Amendment.

This means that the upcoming elections to the Senate will elect 48 new senators — 11 each from all four provinces on general and technocrats’ seats, two from Islamabad and two minority members from Punjab and Sindh.

At present, the house has 97 members due to the death of PML-N’s Rana Maqbool Ahmed and the resignations of PTI’s Shaukat Tarin and Anwaarul Haq Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) after assuming the office of the caretaker prime minister.

The term of a senator is six years, but half of them retire every three years, and elections are held for new members.

More notifications

Meanwhile, the ECP on Saturday issued the notification of two more candidates for the reserved seats for women in the National Assembly from KP. According to the notification, the ECP has declared Shaista Khan of the PML-N and Shahida Akhtar Ali of the JUI-F as the returned candidates on the reserved seats for the National Assembly from KP.

The ECP has so far put on hold the notifications on eight reserved seats for women in the National Assembly from KP and 21 out of a total 26 reserved seats for women in the KP Assembly, stating that “the decision is pending before the commission” on the issue of PTI-backed candidates joining the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC).

In its breakdown of women’s seats being awarded to parties in the national and KP assemblies, the ECP has listed all PTI-backed independents as members of the SIC. However, the column where the number of seats allocated to them should be mentioned reads: “Matter is pending before the commission”.

Of the 60 reserved seats for women in the National Assembly, the ECP has now issued notifications on 40 seats, whereas out of the 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims, it has issued notifications for seven candidates.

The Election Commission has notified 20 winners out of the 32 National Assembly seats reserved for women from Punjab, all 14 from Sindh, and all four from Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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