The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed to hold the elections for the Punjab assembly between April 9 and 13 and for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly between April 15 to 17, the Dawn reported, adding that in February, the ECP announced by-elections on March 19 for the 31 vacant parliamentary seats.
On the political crisis in Pakistan, the director of research at SADF (South Asia Democratic Forum), Dr Siegfried O. Wolf, writes that having provincial elections scheduled in April and general elections scheduled in October is an unprecedented situation in the country’s electoral history.
Traditionally, Pakistan conducts national and provincial elections simultaneously. However, the constitution allows for separate poll dates as well. Apparently, there is a legal limbo on the issue and it seems that there is no constitutional regulation for delaying the polls for assemblies, the SADF researcher wrote.
Pakistan has an extensive record of ‘expedient interpretation’ of the country’s superior law according to political preferences by the establishment. As reported by the Dawn, the spokesperson for the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the ruling coalition, Hafiz Hamdullah stated on January 22 “that the next general elections will be postponed if the country’s economy fails to recover”.
The SADF further said in the report that Hamdullah was arguing that the ‘PTI left power by leaving the country financially tied’. The governors of Punjab and KPK are also in search of ways to delay the polls in their provinces, citing the current ‘alarming law and order situation’ and the economic crisis. Considering the challenges Pakistan is facing at the moment, the PDM is most likely not keen to “face the unenviable prospect of holding six months of staggered elections”.
Measures by the judiciary might complicate the electoral process further. Pakistan might also experience unconstitutional interventions in the political-electoral processes by so-called veto actors, namely the army and intelligence, in accordance with dynamics entrenched in the country’s political culture, the SADF wrote, adding that a coup d’etat does not seem likely, as the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) possess a large variety of indirect measures to influence politics.
According to Pakistan’s Constitution, the National Assembly has a five-year term, which means it must be dissolved and general elections held by October 12, 2023.
The SADF also mentioned five possible scenarios, with tge first being that the provincial elections in both Punjab and KPK will be held in April, followed by general elections in October. In the second scenario, both provincial and general elections will be held together in April.
In the third scenario, provincial elections will be postponed and held together with the general elections in October, the SADF said, that in the fourth scenario, the elections will be held in April but the general elections will be postponed.
In a fifth and final scenario according to the SADF, both the provincial and general elections will be postponed to a date significantly later than October 2023.
The SADF researcher wrote that the present political drama in Pakistan started in April 2022, when then Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted following a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Khan accused his successor Shehbaz Sharif of conspiring with the US to topple his administration (with the blessing of the Pakistani military) and demanded early elections, as, in his view, the new government had no democratic legitimacy.
The Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) organised large-scale protest rallies and took all possible institutional measures to enforce a snap general election. Its elected members resigned from both the National Assembly and from two of the country’s four provincial assemblies where the PTI was in control, Punjab (on 15 January) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK, on 18 January).
Khan’s strategy of increasing political turmoil and public pressure on the government only creates political instability. The failure of Khan’s ‘election gamble’ might be just an incident within the currently unfolding drama. Any outcome is possible, including the comeback to a political system without regular elections. (ANI)