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Will hold general elections by Feb 2024, says Pakistan poll body

 The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has given its assurance to political parties and the President that it would hold general elections in the country by February 2024.

The ECP assurance negates the mandated time of 90-days after dissolution of Parliament as per the country’s Constitution. 

After the Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) dissolved Parliament and its government on August 9, an interim-government under the premiership of Anwaarul Haq Kakar has taken over with a constitutional mandate of holding polls in the country within 90-days.

However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), responsible for seeing through the electoral process has stated that elections in the country cannot be possible before February 2024, adding that the new polls would be held after completion of the delimitation process under the new digital census. 

The ECP has issued a schedule for the delimitation process, which would complete by December 14. ECP maintains that it would require at least two to three months more to prepare for the general elections and hold polls. 

ECP’s position on the matter comes after the Shehbaz Sharif-led government empowered it with additional powers to independently decide on the election date without the consultation of consent from the President office. It is this empowered standing that ECP chief refused to meet with the President of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi and stated that it did not require exercising the practice of meeting because it was not bound to consult the president on election date. 

The caretaker government also seems to be on the same page as ECP since it also brushed aside advice from the President to direct ECP for timely elections, stating that it was ECP’s decision to decide and announce on the poll’s date. 

Political parties like Pakistan People Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) have been demanding the ECP to hold elections on time as mentioned in the constitution.  

“We demand that the elections be held on time. When we were in the government and were part of the consultation meeting at Council of Common Interest (CCI), we were assured that election would be held within the stipulated time of 90-days. Now ECP states that it would take more time, which is unconstitutional, and we do not agree with it,” said Sherry Rehman, senior leader of Pakistan People Party (PPP). 

“Election Commission has assured us of their readiness for mid-February elections and expressed their commitment to expedite the constituency delimitation process to potentially allow for earlier elections. I conveyed my party’s viewpoint to ECP and emphasized that, according to the constitution, holding elections within 90 days is obligatory,” said Mian Iftikhar, leader of Awami National Party (ANP) after meeting with the Election Commissioner of Pakistan. 

Experts say that while holding elections within 90 days is a mandate for the caretaker government and the ECP, delay in elections would not only require ordinance-based extension in tenure of the caretaker government but also would be viewed critically by the IMF and the western powers. 

“Pakistan’s hands and feet are chained by the IMF programme, which has stated that timely transition of democratic power is pivotal to political certainty and financial stability of the country. And if polls are delayed, which seems likely under the current scenario; it may have consequences for Pakistan on the economic front in a way that the country may not be able to bear them,” said Javed Siddique, senior political analyst. 

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