The Upper House of Parliament on Friday passed a nonbinding resolution seeking a delay to polls over security concerns and severe winter weather in parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, despite opposition from a Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) senator and the interim information minister.
Moved by independent Senator Dilawar Khan, the Senate had just 14 members in attendance when the resolution was passed, against a total strength of over 100 members. Reading out the resolution, Khan said the Constitution upheld the right to vote of every Pakistani citizen and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was bound to conduct free and fair polls with maximum voter participation.
“The voter turnout in colder areas remains notably high during moderate weather conditions. January and February are recognized as the coldest months in the majority of areas in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” he said, adding several political parties had expressed their reservations over this. He also voiced concern over recent terror attacks against Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) chief Fazlur Rehman, National Democratic Movement (NDM) leader Mohsin Dawar, and other political figures.
“The Ministry of Interior has conveyed serious threats to the lives of prominent politicians, increasing the challenges faced by political parties in exercising their right to a free and fair election,” he said, stressing there was a surge in attacks on both security forces and citizens, especially in KP and Balochistan. He said intelligence agencies had also issued alerts indicating imminent threats of militant attacks on election rallies, which risked derailing the democratic process.
Additionally, he cited the “resurgence” of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential risk of its spread. “The Senate of Pakistan, being the defender of the rights of the federating units is obligated to ensure the constitutional guarantees and eliminate fears of the smaller provinces, especially vulnerable geographical territories,” he said, adding it was a violation of fundamental rights to conduct polls “without addressing legitimate concerns, facilitating sufficient opportunities for election campaign and guaranteeing the safety of politicians and citizens.”
In this regard, said Khan, elections should be delayed to facilitate the “effective participation of people from all areas of Pakistan and belonging to all political shades” and called on the ECP to “promptly implement the postponement.”
Several other senators, a majority belonging to the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), supported the resolution, claiming “smaller provinces” had to reckon with different conditions than Punjab or Sindh.
Opposing the resolution, Senator Afnanullah of the PMLN said it was inappropriate to seek any delay in the polls at this juncture. He noted the security situation had been worse during the 2008 and 2013 general elections, adding if this were used as a pretext, elections would never occur.
He questioned if any other country, such as the U.K. and the U.S., had deferred elections during times of war. He also regretted that weather was being used as an excuse to delay polls, noting elections had also taken place in February in 2008 after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He also compared the campaign to delay elections to “boot polishing.” He questioned if a country of 240 million people could be run without constitutional institutions. “Is this what you want? You don’t want a Parliament in the country?” he questioned.
Senator Samina Mumtaz Zehri of the BAP said climate change had not been in effect in 2008. “We hold our armed forces in high esteem,” she added. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Bahramand Tangi, also in attendance, did not offer any support or opposition to the resolution.
After a brief debate, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani prorogued the session indefinitely.