Election in January a blurry prospect

Muhammad Saleh Zaafir
Friday, Sep 22, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The activation of the National Accountability Bureau in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict annulling the NAB law amendments, Shehbaz Sharif’s sudden dash to London amid speculations about a revision in the schedule of Nawaz Sharif’s return, and a vague announcement by the ECP regarding the general election without providing any specific schedule are all factors that could blur the prospects of general elections in the country early next year.

The matter could be taken up in the apex court in light of its judgment in the case of the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act in the first week of October. Highly placed sources told The News on Thursday that electoral developments are essentially dependent on the decision of the Supreme Court in the Practice and Procedure Act case. If all the verdicts of the apex court made in the aftermath of the said Act’s adoption by parliament were to be discarded, then the general election would become possible by end January next year.

Sources have also said that the brief election announcement by the ECP has no legal value since it has been made without reference to the constitution and without providing a schedule for the polls. According to Article 219 of the constitution, the duties of the ECP include preparing electoral rolls for election to the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and local governments; revising such rolls periodically; organizing and conducting election to the Senate or to fill casual vacancies; appointing election tribunals; and holding general elections to the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and the local governments.

The ECP has stated that the polls, due to be held in November, were delayed due to fresh marking of constituencies. According to the ECP, the final list of new constituencies will be published by November 30 and the vote will take place late in January after a 54-day process that includes filing nomination papers, appeals and campaigning.

The constitution says that elections must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of the national or a provincial assembly on completing a full term, or within 90 days if the dissolution takes place earlier. About a week before the expiry of the former government’s term, the then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif approved the results of the country’s latest census, which is to be followed by the delimitation of constituencies.

The announcement of the election comes as Pakistan grapples with severe economic, political and security crises -- including an IMF programme with strings attached, and a resurgence in violence by armed groups, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The TTP for example has ramped up its activities in the country. Sources also say that there are concerns regarding the security of Nawaz Sharif as far as considerations go about the return of the PML-N supremo.

It will reportedly take a couple of days for the situation to become clear. Shehbaz is in London and will discuss the situation with Nawaz Sharif in the presence of Maryam Nawaz. The PML-N leadership would like to ensure a ‘risk-free’ ambiance for the return of its leader. The legal team that is engaged in consultations about a protective bail for Nawaz Sharif is still working on the documents for the PML-N leader’s safe return. They are confident about the bail but the revival of NAB cases has rung alarm bells.

Intriguingly, no PML-N stalwart is prepared to comment on the situation in the aftermath of Shehbaz Sharif’s rushed return to London and the revival of closed NAB cases. However, sources have also made it clear that Shehbaz is not carrying anyone’s message for Nawaz Sharif.