Can’t hold elections in 3 months: Pak’s Election Commission

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has expressed its inability to hold general elections over the next three months citing various legal hurdles and procedural challenges. A senior official of Pakistan’s Election Commission said that preparations for the general elections would take around six months.

The Election Commission official said that the latest demarcation of constituencies, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the number of seats was increased under the 26th Amendment, and assigning the electoral rolls district-wise is a big challenge. He added that demarcation of constituencies is a time-consuming task whereas the law provides one month to make objections while they require another month to resolve them.

The election official explained that would take at least three months to complete the work, after which updating the voters’ lists would be another big task. He said procurement of election material, management of ballot papers and appointment and training of polling staff are also among the challenges. “Under the law ballot papers with water mark are to be used which are not available in the country and they will have to be imported. The ECP had proposed to amend the law to provide ballot papers with ‘security features’ instead of ‘watermark’. Inviting bids and checking financial and technical references will also require some time,” the official added. 

The Election Commission Pakistan official also said that there would be a massive requirement of election material for about 100,000 polling stations. “There would a requirement of 2 million stamp pads, a large quantity of scissors and other writing material including ball point pens also need to be ordered.”

Citing some legal hurdles, the official said that under Section 14 of the Elections Act, the ECP was to announce an election plan four months before conducting the general elections. He said that the law to use EVMs (electronic voting machines) and granting voting rights to Pakistanis overseas also came into the fray and had to be repealed. The commission has already announced the schedule for municipal elections in Balochistan.

Polling day has been fixed on May 29 and local elections are also underway in Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad. “If general elections have to be held, we have to stop the plan for municipal elections,” he said. Expressing deep concern over the recent political developments and the resulting constitutional crisis, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has identified a number of constitutional, legal and operational challenges in holding early elections. The constitutionality of the steps to dissolve the National Assembly will be decided by the Supreme Court, a statement said.

FAFEN hopes for an immediate decision from the Supreme Court, which correctly raised the issue automatically because any delay would continue to cause supplementary problems due to constitutional deadlock. “As a result, there has already been public confusion and political divisions that could potentially turn into violent expression,” FAFEN added in the statement. The organization said that political parties have a great responsibility to organize their workers and ensure that political differences do not turn into violence, especially before the premature elections. According to FAFEN, early elections cannot be a smooth process given many constitutional and legal complexities. Their statement further said that the main factor of the legality of any election will be the completion of the Election Commission. FAFEN pointed out that Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) members from Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are yet to be appointed.

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