The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday withdrew its schedule for general elections in Punjab, saying polls will now take place on Oct. 8 rather than the previously notified April 30.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, in mid-January, dissolve both the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assemblies in a bid to pressure the federal government into proceeding toward early general elections. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had ruled in a suo motu that elections must take place within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly—but allowed for the “barest minimum” deviation from the schedule to account for the delay in announcing a date for polls in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In its order, the Supreme Court had directed the president to consult with the ECP and issue a date for polls in Punjab, while it had directed the governor to consult with the electoral body to issue a date for polls in KP.
Acting on suggestions of the ECP, President Arif Alvi had announced April 30 as the date for polls in Punjab. However, KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali has yet to announce any date, stating in a letter to the ECP that it should consult with relevant stakeholders—law enforcement agencies—before picking any date.
In an 8-page order, the ECP has noted that in February the caretaker Punjab government had informed it of a “serious” law and order situation in the province. Similarly, it said, the Interior Ministry had informed it that the deployment of civil and armed forces for security at polling stations would not be possible due to a “spike” in incidents of terrorism and the military’s duties in ensuring national security and protection of the country’s borders.
These briefings, it said, were revisited in March following the Supreme Court’s ruling to ensure foolproof security arrangements in both Punjab and KP. During the second round of briefings, reads the ECP order, government officials reiterated that they could not ensure foolproof security for elections in light of the prevailing economic crunch and deteriorating law and order situation. According to the Inspector General of Police Punjab’s briefing, said the ECP, “presently only one security personnel at average per polling station is available.” In this scenario, it noted, the ECP was unable to make alternate arrangements to ensure security of the election material, polling staff, voters and candidates.
Similarly, it said, the Finance Ministry had said it could not release funds amidst the prevailing financial crunch. “Despite all the best efforts by the Commission, the federal and provincial governments and all the executive authorities including law enforcement agencies have not been able to assist the Commission for conduct of free, fair and transparent elections” in Punjab, it added.
Noting that Article 254 of the Constitution states that any act that must be done within a specified time period does not become invalid if it is not done within that period, the ECP stressed that it had extensively deliberated with law enforcement agencies, and the ministries of finance, defense, interior, as well as the Punjab chief secretary on the issue. “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 organize the elections honestly, justly, fairly, in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Constitution and law,” it added.
Citing the powers conferred upon it under Article 218(3), read with Section 58 and Section 8(c) of the Elections Acts, 2017, the ECP withdrew the election schedule for Punjab issued earlier this month and said a fresh schedule would be issued in accordance with the new poll date of Oct. 8.
In a statement on Twitter, PTI leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain claimed the ECP’s order was in violation of law. “The people who have signed the [ECP order] are all liable to be tried under Article 6 (treason) of the Constitution,” he added.