Pakistan's Election Commission has assured the political parties that the general elections would be held by January end or mid-February, allaying fears about the fate of the polls in the cash-strapped nation.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) gave assurance to the Awami National Party (ANP) when the party leaders met the election body, the Dawn newspaper reported on Thursday.
The meeting held on Wednesday was chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja and also attended by senior ECP officials.
The ANP delegation was led by its secretary general Iftikhar Hussain, central spokesman Zahid Khan, and party leaders Khushdil Khan and Abdul Rahim Wazir.
Pakistan's National Assembly was dissolved on August 9. The elections in the country should be held within the stipulated time of 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly.
Pakistan President Arif Alvi appointed Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar as caretaker prime minister in mid-August to run the country until fresh elections.
However, the ECP decided to conduct a fresh delimitation of Constituencies on the basis of the new census, delaying the general elections.
During a consultative meeting between the ANP representatives and the electoral watchdog to discuss the election roadmap, the ANP requested that if conducting the election within 90 days was not feasible, they be provided with the election date and schedule.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had made a similar demand a day ago to end the uncertainty surrounding the coming polls.
Hussain, after the meeting with the ECP, stated that the election commission assured them of their readiness for mid-February elections and expressed their commitment to expedite the constituency delimitation process to potentially allow for earlier elections.
The Election Commission officials assured ANP leaders of squeezing the delimitation timeline as much as possible and said elections might even be held sooner, probably by the end of January, if the delimitation exercise was completed earlier.
They insisted that the ECP would not succumb to pressure from any side and that the elections would not go beyond mid-February under any circumstances.
The Election Commission said that under the already announced delimitation schedule, the process should be completed in 120 days (by December 14). However, it was also possible that the ECP cut the timeframe for delimitation and announced the election schedule along with the amended delimitation schedule in the next few days.
However, the ANP delegation noted that the ECP should have consulted political parties before announcing the delimitation schedule.
Later, Hussain told reporters that the Election Commission had assured the party of fast-tracking the redrawing of constituencies so that general elections could not go beyond mid-February.
Hussain said that during the meeting with the ECP, his party highlighted that holding elections within 90 days after the assembly’s dissolution was a constitutional requirement.
He said the assembly’s dissolution three days before the expiry of its term and the last-minute approval of census results by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) created doubts about the fate of polls.
The ECP has highlighted that once the census results were approved by the CCI and officially notified, the commission was bound by the law to redraw constituencies as per the new census.
Hussain also underlined the need for a level playing field for all the political parties. To a question, he said the establishment had decided on its own to stay neutral and would not interfere in politics.
“They have said so and I am sure that being such a major institution, they would prove it. We have to believe if we want to take politics and the country forward,” he said.
Meanwhile, ECP officials also had consultative sessions with the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Balochistan National Party (BNP) on Wednesday.
The BAP delegation supported the ECP’s decision to go for fresh delimitation, noting that it would be an injustice to political parties, candidates and the public if constituencies weren’t withdrawn after the census approval.
The party asked the election commission to ensure transparent delimitation followed by free and fair polls. It also reminded the ECP to keep in view the weather in different parts of the country before announcing the election schedule so that no inconvenience was caused to the candidates and the voters.
BNP’s Agha Hasan Baloch complained that Balochistan’s population had been undercounted in the latest census and believed that the fresh delimitation following a “flawed census” would be meaningless, according to Dawn.
Pakistan has been facing political turmoil for over a year following the ouster of former premier Imran Khan.
A Pakistani high court on Tuesday suspended the jailed former prime minister's sentence on corruption charges, but he will remain behind bars after a judge had already ordered his detention in another case. The conviction of Khan has also barred him from contesting elections for five years.