Elections in Punjab postponed for 5 months

Citing security and funds shortage as reasons Election Commission announces new date of October 8 instead of April 30

ISLAMABAD    -    In a major development in the country's political arena, the Election Commission of Pakistan [ECP] yesterday postponed the scheduled general elections in Punjab till October 8, 2023.

The country's top electoral body has taken this decision giv­ing weight to the opinions of Inte­rior, Defence and Finance Minis­tries about the hitches of holding elections next month [April 30].

These stakeholders including Interior, Defence and Finance ministries in a series of meetings with the electoral watchdog have also recently conveyed paucity of funds and unavailability of army personnel to depute for the elections. “After consider­ing reports of different stake­holders including the interi­or and defence ministries, it reached the conclusion that it is not possible to hold and or­ganise elections honestly, fair­ly and justly in a peaceful man­ner and in accordance with the Constitution and law,” accord­ing to a copy of the order, avail­able with The Nation.

The commission says, “In ex­ercise of the powers conferred upon it by Article 218(3) read with Section 58 and Section 8(c) of the Elections Act, 2017, the commission “hereby withdraws the election programme […] and fresh schedule will be issued in a due course of time with poll date on October 8”.

It is to be mentioned here that the apex court had ruled that the polls to the Punjab and KP assemblies should be held within the stipulated pe­riod of 90 days. It had, howev­er, allowed the ECP to propose a poll date that deviates from the 90-day deadline by the “barest minimum”, in case of any prac­tical difficulty.

The commission had also written spate letters to the President and the KP governor. In the letter to President Dr Arif Alvi, the electoral watchdog had proposed dates between April 30 and May 7 for the elections. Alvi later had announced that elections in Punjab would be held on April 30.

The ECP, in its order men­tioned, it had approached the interior and defence ministries in February for the deployment of the Army and Rangers in view of the “heightened securi­ty situation in the province and the recent terrorist wave”.

It was clarified through the or­der that the Punjab chief secre­tary and police chief were also summoned on February 8 for a briefing on the prevailing law and order situation. The offi­cials reported on the spate of terrorist attacks in the prov­ince since January, prevention of over 213 terrorist attacks in the province in the past two months, the “serious live ter­rorism threats” present, the cleanup operations under way for eradicating terrorists that would take four to five months and shortfall of 386,623 police personnel for election duties.

The order said that the inte­rior ministry also conveyed to the ECP on February 8 that the deployment of civil and armed forces would not be possible due to the “spike in incidents of terrorism across the country” and threat alerts from intelli­gence agencies.

After the apex court’s order, the ECP said it had again ap­proached the interior and fi­nance ministries on March 9 re­garding conducting polls and their security arrangements to which it was informed that “elections are not possible due to the deteriorating law and or­der situation, charged politi­cal environment, serious threat to politicians” while the fi­nance secretary conveyed that it would be “very difficult” for the federal government to pro­vide polling funds.

The commission said that it had again convened a meeting with intelligence and securi­ty officials from Punjab and KP on March 10 and was apprised about their inability to help the commission in conducting elec­tions, the possibility of elec­tion officials being kidnapped during polls and recommend that elections not be held at the present time.

“On March 14 the ECP was informed that the Pakistan Army will not be available for polls-related duties due to the prevalent security situa­tion within the country and on the borders while the Punjab chief secretary “categorical­ly stated” that the provincial government would not be able to provide funds for the elec­tions and foolproof security could not be assured with the assistance of the Armed Forc­es to the police, according to the order.

“The commission is unable to make alternate arrangements to ensure security of the elec­tion material, polling staff, vot­ers and the candidates,” the or­der reads.

It says, “The commission after considering the reports, brief­ing and material brought before it, has arrived at the just con­clusion that it is not possible to hold and organise the elections honestly, justly and fairly in a peaceful manner and in accor­dance with the Constitution and the law,” the order reads.

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