Polls in last week of January: ECP

Mumtaz Alvi & Asim Yasin
Friday, Sep 22, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The general election is most likely to be conducted on January 28, as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced on Thursday that polls would be held in the last week of January next year.

The ECP reviewed the work of delimitation before making this announcement. And it was decided that the initial list of constituencies would be published on Wednesday, September 27. Likewise, after hearing objections and suggestions on the initial delimitations, the final list of constituencies would be published on Nov 30.

After the release of a 54-day election schedule, following the publication of the delimitation of constituencies, the ECP said elections would be held in the last week of January, 2024. It is most likely that election day would be Sunday, January 28, being a weekly holiday.

A few days back, the Election Commission had directed the delimitation committees, one each for the four provinces and one for the federal capital, to complete initial work on delimitation by Sept 26.

Already, the ECP has fixed a consultative meeting with political parties on Oct 4 on the draft of the code of conduct for the nation-wide electoral exercise.

There have been speculations about the timeline of elections, and even there are still voices, being raised by some sections of society that elections might not be held for some years. However, regardless of all that, the electoral body has been focusing on preparations for polls.

Reacting to the announcement, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) senior leader Ahsan Iqbal said his party welcomed the decision by the ECP as it had ended the uncertainty about the elections.

“Everyone knew from the first day that the election commission was bound to conduct delimitation after census,” said Iqbal.

“Earlier, the ECP had said to complete the delimitation process by December 15 after which the polls were estimated to be held in February next year. However, our party had given suggestions to the ECP to reduce the delimitation period. In the light of those suggestions, the ECP reduced the delimitation time till Nov 30 and then announced elections at the end of January after the 54-day period,” he added.

Ahsan said uncertainty should end after the announcement of polls, adding that all parties should start preparations now. “It is important that elections are held peacefully and a stable government is formed that steers the country out of economic crisis,” the former planning minister said.

He added that any party that comes to power should take all parties on board and work on the economic agenda with consensus. Ahsan Iqbal said the ECP announced the election schedule after completion of the delimitation process.

Pakistan Peoples Party, however, expressed reservations, saying it was not enough as the party was demanding complete election schedule, which had not come yet.

According to sources in the PPP, the ECP should have announced the date in the last week of January. “Our demand was simple: announced the schedule for election. But it did not come and we stand with our stance that the election schedule should come,” sources in the PPP said.

According to sources, the PPP leaders contacted party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is in Dubai to celebrate his Birthday with his sister, and was informed about reservations about the Election Commission’s announcement.

Sources said the PPP would formulate its policy on the issue after return of the party leadership from Dubai.

PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira, in a carefully worded response, said he could give his own opinion on the matter but viewed the development as “positive”.

While speaking to Geo News, he said uncertainty would end and things would hopefully move in a positive direction. “Let’s hope for the best.”

Rana Farooq Saeed, acting president of the PPP Central Punjab, also welcomed the ECP announcement that general election would be held in last week of January 2024. In a video message released on Thursday, he expressed his appreciation for the crucial step towards a democratic transition.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), however, said the ECP decision of giving the month, instead of the election date, was surprising, as the Constitution binds the electoral body to hold polls within 90 days after the assembly’s dissolution.

In his reaction to the announcement, PTI Spokesman Raoof Hasan insisted the Constitution mandates the ECP to hold elections within a stipulated time period of 90 days after dissolution of the assembly.

“Any date of the month of January fixed by the Election Commission will be out of the 90-day constitutional period, whereas the matter of holding elections in 90 days is pending in the Supreme Court,” be added.

He contended that it was not possible for the nation to accept any date beyond 90 days till the final decision was announced by the Supreme Court in the case.

The PTI spokesman pointed out that the “Election Commission has also failed to create the environment” required under the Constitution for free and fair elections.

“The PTI, the largest party in the electoral process, is being pushed out of the election race by subjecting it to the worst state repression. Free, fair and impartial elections as per the intention of the Constitution are the responsibility of the Election Commission and the only way to bring the country and the nation out of crises,” he added.

The party said it had decided to challenge the ECP decision to conduct elections in the last week of January.

Speaking to Geo News, PTI’s core committee member Niazullah Niazi said the Constitution calls for elections within 90 days and exceeding the period is unlawful.

“We will challenge the Election Commission’s decision. The way the ECP is working it does not look like a constitutional institution,” Niazi said, adding that President Arif Alvi had the authority to announce a date for polls.

The Awami National Party (ANP), a member of the former ruling alliance, urged the poll organising authority to fix a date for the election.

When asked to comment on the ECP announcement, senior ANP leader Zahid Khan said it was their demand that elections should be held in 90 days and the party raised the same issue when they met Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.

He, however, mentioned that the electoral body had shared its obligations and expressed the inability to hold polls in 90 days.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Mustafa Kamal hailed the government and the ECP for fulfilling their demand of holding elections after carrying out fresh delimitation.

“Yes, we are satisfied with this development,” he told Geo News. However, he said it is yet to be seen whether the ECP would address the party’s concerns regarding the demarcation of constituencies after publishing an initial list of delimitation.

The former Karachi mayor said his party would file a complaint if they found any problem with the delimitation process.

Kamal also said that fair and free elections are not possible in Sindh in the presence of the incumbent provincial chief election commissioner.

APP adds: Caretaker Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi said on Thursday the announcement of election date by the ECP was a positive development.

Addressing a news conference, he welcomed the announcement on behalf of the caretaker government. It was a moment of delight that the election would be held in line with the law and the Constitution.

Flanked by Caretaker Federal Minister for Privatization Fawad Hassan Fawad, he said it was a day of despair for rumour-mongers as the ECP made the announcement regarding general election, which would be held in the last week of January 2024.

The ECP had said that all the groundwork would be completed by Nov 30 and political parties would be given 54 days for the election campaign in line with the Election Act 2017, he added.

Murtaza Solangi said the country would be run by elected representatives of the people which would bring political and economic stability.

He said the interim set-up believes in bringing down political temperature to provide a better environment for credible elections in the country.

In an interview with PTV on Thursday, he said the caretaker government had neither targeted nor uttered a negative statement against any political party or its leadership.

Welcoming the ECP statement about holding elections in the last week of January next year, Solangi said political stability would certainly bring economic stability to the country.

He hoped that the ECP would take solid measures to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country.

Answering a question, he said “our state institutions are fully capable to defend every inch of the country as well as ensure peaceful elections”.