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Tuesday, May 21, 2024  
12 Dhul-Qadah 1445  

Country not safe enough for elections, warn agencies

ECP summons meeting of delegates on security next week, defence ministry officials also invited

The security situation in the country was “not conducive” for holding elections, intelligence agencies told the country’s top electoral authority on Friday.

The warning about security came during a meeting presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja. Officials from the Inter-Services Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau and the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa attended the meeting.

They had met to discuss the arrangements for elections in the two provinces.

The Election Commission of Pakistan started reviewing the preparations for the elections after the Supreme Court ruled that elections to the assemblies in KP and Punjab must be held within 90 days. The apex court had annulled President Arif Alvi’s order on the KP election date which he wanted to be held on April 11.

Later, the ECP sought dates from the president and KP governor on the election dates in the two provinces. Alvi in his letter announced that the elections in Punjab would be held on April 30.

Sources said that all the agencies were “unanimous” in their opinion that the security situation was “not good enough to allow peaceful elections” to take place.

Officials went on to add that the threat of terror attacks this year was “significantly higher” than the previous years.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has summoned another meeting of officials, including the defence ministry, to discuss the security situation again next week. Meanwhile, the ECP has sought 353,000 additional troops for security.

In a meeting on Thursday, the finance ministry expressed its difficulties in providing the necessary funds for upcoming elections in the two provinces in view of the economic challenges.

Meanwhile, the ECP notified the appointment of some 36 district returning officers (DROs), 297 returning officers (ROs), and 294 assistant returning officers (AROs) for elections in the Punjab Assembly.

“The election officials, who were selected from the bureaucracy, would be responsible for overseeing the elections in their respective districts and ensuring that the voting process was conducted in a transparent and unbiased manner. They would also be responsible for counting the votes and announcing the results,” it said in a statement.

The ECP has emphasised that the selection of officials was “based on their experience and competence” in the field of administration.

“The commission is committed to ensuring that the elections are free, fair, and transparent, and has taken several measures to ensure that the electoral process is conducted smoothly,” it said.

The ECP urged all political parties, candidates, and voters to cooperate with the appointed officials and abide by the rules and regulations of the electoral process.

Punjab, KP elections

The Supreme Court in a split judgement on March 1 announced that elections for the dissolved Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab assemblies would be held in 90 days.

In its order, the court has instructed the ECP to recommend an election date to the president, who will announce the date in consultation with the commission.

The court also said that the election should be held within 90 days to the maximum possible extent.

It said the election date should be announced in view of Sections 57 and 58 of the Election Act.

The court decided some of the critical questions as follows:

  1. Election must be held within 90 days for Punjab and KP assemblies.
  2. If the governor approves the dissolution of the assembly, he/she will also give the election date. Hence, the election date for KP will come from the governor.
  3. If the governor fails to set an election date, the president can.
  4. Governors are bound to play their constitutional role immediately.

This case started when the PTI dissolved the KP and Punjab assemblies on Jan 18 and Jan 14, respectively. They are now ruled by caretaker governments. When the assemblies were dissolved, elections should have been called in 90 days but no one in authority was willing to set a date. A political tussle turned into a constitutional conundrum.

The PTI has been claiming that the interim caretaker set-up and the Election Commission of Pakistan were not setting dates for the new elections. At one point President Arif Alvi unilaterally announced his decision on February 20 that general elections for the assemblies would be held on April 9.

Later, the Supreme Court started proceedings to determine who has the constitutional responsibility and authority to announce a date for elections to a provincial assembly after it was dissolved in different ways.

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