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.