Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali this week responded to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s request for a date to conduct general elections in the province, claiming that the prevailing security and economic situation should be addressed before any polls.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government dissolved the KP Assembly in mid-January, with an aim to pressure the federal government into proceeding toward early elections. Under the Constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of any assembly’s dissolution. However, the KP governor has thus far refused to issue any date for the polls, despite the Supreme Court issuing an order earlier this month directing him to consult with the ECP to set a date with the “barest minimum deviation” from the 90-day deadline.
In a letter to the ECP, dated March 15, the governor has once again refused to issue a date for polls, saying challenges posed by “the volatile security situation, non-availability of additional security personnel, fragile financial conditions, constitutional anomalies emanating from census and delimitation process” must be addressed before polls can be held. Claiming that similar delays have been allowed for under the Constitution and the Elections Act, he reiterated that all stakeholders, including the Interior and Defense ministries, should be consulted to determine when the security situation would improve.
According to the letter, the law and order situation in KP is precarious due to lingering effects of the war on terror and the resurgence of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It noted that elections would be held in both the merged and “settled” districts of the province, and the erstwhile tribal areas were “almost 100% more” at threat due to the settlement of terrorists groups from across the border. This threat, it stressed, hampered the free movement of politicians and polling staff.
Similarly, it said, “all political parties” had expressed apprehension over a “level playing field,” noting that “the terrorists target all political parties and leave the one who brought [them] back in the name of reconciliation”—a reference to the PTI. “Sheikh Rashid, Sirajul Haq, Aftab Sherpao, and even Imran Khan have stated to hold general elections on same date,” it said, though made no mention of how these leaders are demanding the National Assembly elections to be brought forward rather than provincial polls to be delayed further.
The letter also detailed the prevailing terror threat, referring to briefings from local administration, adding that there was a shortage of security personnel to perform election duty, especially with the Army declaring it could not provide the necessary deployment.
According to the governor, the lack of funds is also a major factor preventing timely polls. “The province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is heavily indebted of around Rs. 1,000 billion of Asian Development Bank and World Bank as well as its security and administrative machinery is largely engaged in counter-terrorism and mainstreaming of ex-FATA region, thereby heavily unconducive to afford the holding of an election,” he wrote. He also referred to the ongoing census, delimitation and “constitutional anomalies” factors discouraging elections.
“It would be a great constitutional anomaly and matter of concern to public interest if provincial assemblies’ elections are conducted on old census/delimitation and after the already scheduled fresh census/delimitation, National Assembly elections will be held on new census, leading to a dichotomy between both, necessitating fresh provincial assemblies’ elections,” he wrote. “The position would be made even worse when the by-elections arising out of proposed general elections in the provinces are held on the new census, as by then the presently undergoing census would be completed,. In this respect, holding provincial assemblies’ election on old census yet its by-elections and National Assembly election on fresh census would create an unchangeable dilemma for the two provinces,” he added.