Election funds

Editorial Board
Saturday, Apr 15, 2023

That elections should be held within the constitutionally-mandated timeframe is a matter almost all legal and judicial minds are clear on: not holding elections is a disservice to not just the constitution but also democracy. Regardless of the current back and forth among and within the higher judiciary, this is not a question that is much in dispute. Unfortunately, nearly everything else is. As has been articulated better by legal experts, how the judiciary has reached its current situation — not just a clear division within the Supreme Court bench but also far too many debates and questions surrounding the process and date of elections, the power of suo motu, and the power of injunctions against laws as yet not in force. None of that seems to have affected the SC’s quest for ensuring elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa though. In pursuit of that, on Friday, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court ordered the State Bank of Pakistan to allocate and release Rs21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan for the Punjab and KP election exercise. In its order, the court has said that the finance ministry had confirmed that under Article 84 of the constitution, the federal government is fully authorized to make expenditures from the Federal Consolidated Fund for expenditures not included in the annual budget. The court has said that the SBP acting governor had also confirmed that this would be done — “within the shortest possible time” — if the SC so directed and ordered.

With the funds secured, if they come through, the election exercise would seem to be enroute to completion. However, money was not the only hindrance cited by the government when it refused to hold elections at this time. The government had also intimated that security was a major factor in its inability to hold elections at this time. On Friday, an in-camera briefing was held for parliament on the security situation in the country during which parliamentarians were informed that the number of terrorists in the country are a serious security threat. As explained by COAS Gen Asim Munir, talks with terrorists helped them gain strength and regroup — and now the country’s security forces are carrying out Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs) on a daily basis. Given these factors, the government will be looking at the elections as a security conundrum as well, since the security personnel required for the electoral exercise may simply not be available.

What Pakistan faces at the moment are challenges that are popping up like a game of Whack-a-mole. If it’s not the economy, it is the security situation. If it’s not that, it is the fast escalating inter-institutional breakdown, with almost all analysts calling the current judiciary-executive clash a dangerous spiral into a system breakdown. The elections that should have happened in 90 days are now delayed for an indefinite period of time because no institution is willing to back off from their respective positions. The dialogue that should have involved all political stakeholders is nowhere to be seen. The economy that needs to be resuscitated cannot be because of political instability adding to a government distracted.

In all this, there are reports that the PPP has formed a committee to reach out to the PTI. Despite the bad blood between the three main parties, this is the only way out of this descent into chaos. It is important for all sides to take a step back and sit on a negotiating table and decide a way forward, be it in the form of a new social contract or a new charter of economy. It is important that all institutions also clear up any cobwebs within their own structures. And it is important for all to remember that, at the end of the day, in a democracy parliament is supreme and decisions should be made through the people’s representatives.