Parties still skeptical about elections

ISLAMABAD  -  Major political parties in the country are still skeptical about the general elec­tions even after the Election Commission of Pakistan has given hints of polls at the end of January 2024.

The much awaited gener­al elections were originally slat­ed for November but now may take place in the last week of January, as announced by the ECP. The delay was attribut­ed to the need for fresh delin­eation of constituencies, which has caused uncertainty in the political landscape.

By November 30, a fi­nal list of these new­ly delineated constit­uencies is expected to be published, paving the way for the election process to commence. This comprehen­sive process spans over 54 days and includes the submission of nomination papers, appeals, and campaign activities. The Pa­kistan People’s Party, the Paki­stan Muslim League (Nawaz), the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and others, however, are doubtful about the polls which became a constitutional requirement after the outgoing National Assembly was dissolved last month, three days before the completion of its five-tear term.

According to the Constitu­tion, elections must be held within 60 days of the dis­solution of the national or provincial assembly after completing its full term, or within 90 days if dissolu­tion occurs earlier. The co­alition government led by the PML-N had approved the results of the country’s latest census just before bowing out. This led to the need for the redrawing, or delimitation, of certain con­stituencies, further delay­ing the election schedule.

Pakistan is also confront­ing a severe economic crisis, marked by a balance-of-pay­ments crisis and soaring in­flation. In July, the Interna­tional Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a bailout package to avert a default, but this package came with condi­tions, including the removal of subsidies on fuel and pow­er prices and the imposition of additional taxes, which sparked nationwide pro­tests. In addition there have been security challenges.

The caretaker govern­ment, led by Prime Minis­ter Anwaarul Haq Kakar, is tasked with overseeing the election. Questions about the impartiality of the care­taker government have arisen due to alleged close­ness with the opponents of former Prime Minister Imran Khan who himself is ineligible to participate in this election after being barred from public office for five years due to a cor­ruption investigation.

The PPP and the PTI have been calling for elections within 90 days of the dis­solution of the National As­sembly. This has also led to speculations that the two parties might form an alli­ance for the elections. PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari recently said that the alli­ances will be announced af­ter a date is finalized for polls. There are two other main contenders for lead­ing the next government: the PML-N led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Shar­if, and the PPP. Nawaz Sharif, a three-time premier seeks to return from exile, but his corruption case convic­tion remains in force, mak­ing Shehbaz Sharif a serious contender. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young chairman of the PPP and son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhu­tto, is also a candidate for the PM’s slot. The ECP suggests that the number of voters in the country has increased by 22 million compared to 2018. As of July 25, 2023, the total number of voters in Pakistan has risen to 126.9 million from 105.95 million in 2018. This increase is re­flected in both male and fe­male voters, with male vot­ers growing from 59.22 million to 68.50 million, and female voters increasing from 46.73 million to 58.47 million. Among these voters, a significant majority, ap­proximately 59.10 million, fall within the age range of 18 to 35 years. No party has officially launched the elec­tion campaign so far even after the ECP’s announce­ment about polls. The PPP and PTI believe that even though the announcement about elections is a posi­tive development, the polls must be held within the 90 days period after the dis­solution of the National As­sembly. Prior to the election campaign, PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari has started meet­ings and contacts with the like-minded parties for seat adjustments and possible alliance. The PML-N leader­ship is also engaged in a se­ries of meetings to prepare for Nawaz Sharif’s home­coming next month.

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