The mainstream political parties fear a delay in the upcoming general elections — as the time period of 120 days allowed to candidates to campaign in newly delimited constituencies may get scrunched if elections are to be held as per routine in July, 2018.
By law, in this case Section 22 of the Election Act of Pakistan 2017, the delimitation of constituencies must be notified by May 3. It states, “The ECP may, at any time but at least four months before notification of the election programme of its own motion and for reasons to be recorded, make such amendments, alterations or modifications in the final list of constituencies published or in the areas included in a constituency, as it deems necessary. It shall publish alterations or modifications with their justifications and invite and hear representations before taking final decision.”
Syed Khurshid Shah, leader of opposition in the National Assembly who belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), while talking to The News on Sunday, says: “We are afraid the general elections may be delayed if the ECP does not announce the final schedule 120 days before the elections are expected to be held.”
Shah observes many complainants, who may not get relief from the ECP in case of changes in their constituencies, can move appellate forums by challenging the ECP decisions in the high courts and the Supreme Court. “In this situation, the general election may be delayed till the end of this year,” he fears.
However, he says, no party wants delay in elections, and “that is why we are pushing the ECP to act on it soon”.
“We have stressed from day one that elections must be held on time. We believe it is the ECP and the sitting government’s responsibility to remove all legal and administrative hurdles for general elections to be held on time,” Shah says. “That is why parliament approved the bill allowing the ECP to define new delimitations on the basis of provisional results of sixth census.”
The parliament in December 2017 passed the constitutional amendment to consider provisional results of the sixth census to delimit constituencies, paving the way for the ECP to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the next general elections.
Members of other opposition political parties have expressed similar concerns. They want legal lacunas to be removed and elections be held on time.
The ECP received 1,285 objections soon after it announced new mapping of electoral constituencies in mid-January. Soon after, people filed public representations and objections on new mapping. Of these representations, including many from sitting members of the National Assembly, 705 came from Punjab and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), 284 from Sindh, 192 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) and 104 from Balochistan.
According to one official, the ECP is sorting out these matters district-wise, and on daily basis. “We have disposed of more than 80 per cent of the complaints. We will conclude this exercise by May 3.”
He adds that the schedule for the next election is ready. “Legal anomalies will be resolved accordingly. ECP is an independent body and would act according to its constitutional authority and limits.”
The ECP and the special committee of parliament formed to look into the matter of delimitations has opposed new mapping in different meetings. A working group led by Federal Minister Daniyal Aziz of the special parliamentary committee on delimitations rejected the new mapping draft. Aziz has recommended that the general elections be held according to the old delimitations if the new process faces legal challenges. The working group wants to resolve the matter through a resolution in the National Assembly or through intervention of the Supreme Court.
Shahid Fiaz, Chief Executive Officer, Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability, a national non-government organisation, terms such concerns as “political gimmickry”. “The call for new delimitations was duly approved by the parliament. All parties supported this process and passed the Election Act,” he says, continuing that the constitution is very clear on the general elections, “It says they will be held two-months after the assemblies complete their tenure and within 90 days if the assemblies are dissolved before the due term.”
He adds, “We should understand many things are happening in extraordinary circumstances, however, none is big enough to cause a delay in general elections. The ECP is all set for timely elections.”
Commenting on the issue of delimitations and public representations, Fiaz says, there can be some deviations but “we should also keep in mind that the ECP has to work within its legal framework and the commission has no power to change district or revenue boundaries.”
“Apparently, there seems no reason for delay in general elections. If there is any legal issue like required timeframe for campaign after finalisation of new delimitations that can be addressed by parliament,” says political analyst Tahir Mehdi. “And if the issue is not resolved, there can be an option of holding elections according to old mapping without any delay.”