Lahore: Pakistan's top election body has delayed assembly polls in the politically crucial Punjab province by more than five months, citing deteriorating security situation in the cash-starved country, a move criticised by former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party chairman Imran Khan.
In a late-night order issued on Wednesday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said that after considering the reports, briefing and material brought before the commission, it has concluded that it is impossible to hold and organise the elections — originally scheduled for April 30 — "honestly, justly, fairly, in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Constitution and law".
The ECP said that it "hereby withdraws the election programme and fresh schedule will be issued in due course of time with poll date on October 8." The assemblies in Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were dissolved on January 14 and 18 respectively by the erstwhile governments of Khan's party.
The ECP said the decision was taken after briefing of the government and different departments and intelligence agencies informed that "the law and order situation in the country don't permit to hold elections at any province at this point of time."
According to the ECP, it contacted the interior and finance ministries for a meeting on March 9, where the special secretary of interior had said that "free, fair and peaceful elections are not possible due to deteriorating law and order situation, charged political environment and serious threats to political leaders." The finance secretary had cited a paucity of funds and the ongoing financial crunch as a reason for a lack of funds for the elections.
The ECP said that several senior-level members of the security agencies, including the police and the defence minister, and the federal government had recommended delaying the elections.
Khan condemned the ECP's move to postpone the elections till October, calling it a violation of Pakistan's constitution.
"Today everyone must stand behind the legal community – the judiciary & lawyers – with expectation that they will protect Constitution. For if this is accepted today then it is the end of Rule of Law in Pakistan," he said in a tweet early Thursday.
We dissolved our 2 provincial legislatures with expectation that elections would be held in 90 days as clearly given in our Constitution. We did not take this action to allow a bunch of fascists to impose a reign of terror, violating the Constitution & Rule of Law.— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 22, 2023
"We dissolved our 2 provincial legislatures with expectation that elections would be held in 90 days as clearly given in our Constitution. We did not take this action to allow a bunch of fascists to impose a reign of terror, violating the Constitution & Rule of Law," he said in another tweet.
On March 1, the Supreme Court ruled that elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies, as stipulated by the Constitution.
In a letter to President Arif Alvi, the ECP proposed April 30 as the date for elections in Punjab.
Meanwhile, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor Ali fixed May 28 as the date for polls in the province but subsequently backtracked on his decision while calling for “key challenges” to be addressed before a new date is announced.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday said there were differing opinions on conducting elections, and parliament needed guidance from the government and other institutions in this regard.
"Regarding the 90-day limit in the Constitution, I mentioned that April 30 is beyond that timeframe but have elections not been held after 90 or 60 days in the past?” Sanaullah asked.
The cricketer-turned-politician was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote, becoming the first Pakistani prime minister to be voted out by the National Assembly.
Since his ouster, Khan has been asking for early elections to oust what he termed an "imported government" led by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Sharif has maintained that elections will be held later this year once the parliament completes its five-year tenure.