Elections or No Elections?
There is no indication of the political parties gearing up for the hustings yet. The usual electioneering that should have started by now, with just weeks left for the dissolution of the National Assembly, is all quite inexplicable. So, what is cooking in the corridors of power?
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared that his government’s term would end on August 14. He, however, did not clear the confusion about whether the PDM government would go for normal dissolution of the National Assembly on completion of its term on August 12 or he would advise the President for early dissolution. The assembly would formally stand dissolved on August 13, and there is no provision in the Constitution, except the imposition of emergency in the country under Article 232 to extend the term of the National Assembly.
According to Article 224 of the Constitution, a General Election to the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly shall be held within a period of 60 days immediately following the day on which the term of the assembly is due to expire unless the assembly has been dissolved earlier, in case of early dissolution, the Election Commission of Pakistan is bound to hold the General Elections within a period of 90 days after the dissolution, according to Article 224.2.
The provincial assembly of Sindh and Balochistan also held their first session on August 13, 2018, so the term of these provincial assemblies will also end with the National Assembly.
The government also has a plan to make amendments to the election laws, and a bill in this regard is expected to be tabled during the farewell session of the assembly, which will be held soon. The draft of the proposed law is presently under consideration by the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, headed by former speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. The Committee is expected to finalise the draft suggesting key changes to the election laws around the end of July. It is presumed as many as 67 proposed amendments are in the election act.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), traditionally and as per its mandate as per Articles 218 and 224, is obliged to conduct elections in a free environment, and the electoral process will be transparent. The Election Commission of Pakistan has worked diligently to establish a comprehensive Code of Conduct for all stakeholders. Appointments of 750 returning officers for national and provincial assemblies have been completed in all respect, and the polling staff, which are more than one million, are being scrutinised.
With the results of the digital census yet to be formally notified, conducting the forthcoming general elections based on the latest delimitation is out of the question. The General Elections 2023 for the national and provincial assemblies will be conducted as per the limits of the constituencies published by the Election Commission of Pakistan on August 5, 2022, under Article 51.5 of the Constitution and Section 17 of the Elections Act 2017, the final published data is required for delimitation of constituencies, and the Election Commission of Pakistan is bound to start the delimitation process once the census is officially published.
The writer has served the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in various positions for over a period of 30 years. He is also an Advisor to caretaker CM Punjab on Law and Parliamentary Affairs.
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