PA elections, NA by-polls: Defence, finance ministries say unable to cooperate

Tahir Khalil & Nosheen Yousaf & Mumtaz Alvi
Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The defence and finance ministries as well as the judiciary have expressed their inability to support the general election process in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the National Assembly by-elections, citing security, high expenses and lack of manpower as the reasons, according to official sources.

The defence ministry has informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the relevant quarters that the army, rangers and FC personnel could not be deployed at the polling stations for security duties in the wake of increasing terrorist attacks in the country, and serious law and orders situation in various parts of Pakistan. However, it was informed, that quick response force could be made available in sensitive areas to deal with any emergency situation.

The finance ministry informed the authorities concerned that only Rs12 billion could be provided for two provincial assemblies election and NA by-polls, while the ECP estimated the total cost of the process at over Rs60 billion.

Also, the LHC registrar office informed the Election Commission in writing that the chief justice had directed him to write a letter, making it clear that judicial officers could not be spared for electoral duties due to huge pendency of cases currently.

The LHC registrar informed ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan about its inability to offer the services of judicial officers for polls duties, as the district returning officers and returning officers, saying that a huge number of 1,312,480 cases were pending in courts currently.

The letter reads, “Indeed, being spearhead component of democratic process, conduct of general elections is a sacrosanct national duty and this court would have taken pride and felt honoured to lend services of district and sessions judges, additional district and sessions judges and civil judges to supervise the elections, had this court been not constrained by the following factors and hard ground realities:

“There is a considerable deficiency of working strength of judicial officers in Punjab as against the total sanctioned strength and clearly establishes the case in point that this strength of judges of district judiciary in Punjab would further be depleted and decision making system and conflicts of the parties concerned would be jeopardised immensely resulting in a standstill which cannot, in any way whatsoever, will be acceptable for the simple and obvious reason that the paramount/ foremost objective of judiciary is to provide justice to the masses rather than to conduct lections;

“In the event of appointment of judicial officers as district returning officers and returning officers, they not only have to perform this onerous/whole-time task but perform court functions as well which is practically impossible as sailing in two boats at the same time would badly affect both the constitutional as well as statutory functions and may lead to any untoward consequences.

“Members of the district judiciary, Punjab, while shouldering constitutional obligations of district returning officers/ returning officers in the past, have had un-pleasant/ bitter experiences which became great source of obstruction in discharging their functions with freedom, according to the law/procedure.”

The LHC registrar said, “…I am under directions of the Honourable Chief Justice, that this Court does not find itself in a position to extend services of our Judicial Officers for the subject cited purpose and convey regret with heavy heart in this regard”.

The security authorities informed the ECP that armed forces could be deployed only in Rajanpur region constituencies. The defence ministry told the ECP that army and rangers could not be deployed for static duty for the KPK and Punjab assemblies’ elections and 93 National Assembly by-elections. The defence ministry informed the interior secretary through a letter that the armed and paramilitary forces were busy in border management and internal security management and, therefore, the FC and rangers could not be deployed outside the polling stations. It said that the threats of terrorism were increasing in the country lately.

The armed forces would be engaged in population census process from February 27 to April 3, 2023; therefore, deployment of army and rangers would not be possible for Punjab and KPK general election and NA by-polls. However, the Punjab Rangers would be available as quick response force for Rajanpur constituencies, the letter said.

The finance ministry requested the ECP to defer its demand for additional funds for holding two provincial assembles’ general elections and NA by-elections. It made it clear that the country’s financial situation was very bleak and therefore additional grants could not be made available.

The ECP had demanded provision of Rs20 billion additional funds for 93 NA by-polls and Rs14 billion additional grant for the next general election in two provinces.

The ECP had sought Rs60 billion for holding of NA by-polls and two PA assemblies general elections in the beginning. However, the demand was lowered to Rs47 billion when the ECP was informed about financial constraints of the country. However, later on, the ECP called for provision of Rs61 billion. The ECP had been informed that the federal government was to conduct population census; it was to provide financial support to the flood-hit population, and it was also finding it hard to meet financial targets, set by the IMF for revival of the loan programme.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government Wednesday proposed to the ECP to hold the National Assembly (NA) and provincial assembly elections on the same day, owing to financial and manpower constraints.

Also, the IGP Punjab said that for only maintaining law and order, Rs42 billion would be needed in the face of looming serious terror threats.

The IGP informed the electoral body that the police were busy in operations against hardened criminals in difference districts, and the process would be completed in four, five months. Therefore, it would be difficult to hold polls during this period of time, he opined.

Earlier, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) police chief had also expressed his inability to back the idea of immediate provincial assembly elections in the wake of terrorist attacks in the province. After that, the ECP held a meeting to get update from Punjab in relation to the upcoming polls exercise and maintenance of law and order in the province.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja presided over the meeting here.

Others present in the meeting, included ECP secretary, chief secretary Punjab, secretary Finance and secretary Local Government Punjab, and senior officials of the Commission.

The chief secretary Punjab, while briefing the forum, suggested that if holding of NA and PA polls on the same day was not possible, then in the current situation, by-election to the National Assembly and the provincial assembly elections should be held on the same day. “About Rs42 billion will be required to maintain law and order in these elections,” he noted.

The CS pointed out that there was a serious threat of terrorism in the province. The month of Ramazan is approaching, in which administrative officers have to ensure price control and security arrangements for worshippers in mosques. So, law-enforcement agencies are very much needed to maintain law and order. At the same time, security arrangements have to be made for rallies during elections, he added.

The national census, he continued, is also being conducted in March 2023; therefore, administrative personnel, police officers and teachers, whose duties are assigned in elections, would also be performing the national census duty. At the same time, he noted, there would also be children’s examinations and polio campaign, so the availability of staff for elections would be difficult.

He said that apart from this, there is also the season of wheat procurement ahead and duties of provincial government officers are also imposed for the work: the provincial government was also facing a fiscal deficit.

The IGP Punjab said in his briefing that terrorist threats and attacks were increasing in the province and since December 2022, 213 incidents of terrorism had been prevented, “about which we had prior information due to intelligence reports” while there are agency reports about terrorist incidents in almost all districts of Punjab. Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan are at the top of the list of most sensitive districts.

He said there were various terrorist groups working in Bhakkar, Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan. Likewise, major acts of terrorism had been averted including those at Lahore Police Lines and in Mianwali. He explained those groups consisted of 20 to 30 people, who come from Afghanistan and carry out terrorism.

He said that 412,854 personnel were required as per the requirement of the Election Commission for peaceful elections in the province, while the police force consisted of only 115,000 personnel. The Punjab police need 300,000 more personnel. And, he noted, the services of the Pakistan Army and Rangers would be required to meet the shortage.