Election Commission of Pakistan sets general election date for late January

The Election Commission of Pakistan, on September 21, revealed its plan to hold general elections by the last week of January, a delay of over two months from the constitutionally mandated deadline of 90 days following the premature dissolution of the National Assembly more than a month ago.

The ECP outlined its timeline, stating that the preliminary delimitation list will be made public on September 27.

“The final list of the new constituencies will be published on November 30, and the elections will be held in the last week of January 2024 after a 54-day election program [or campaigning],” the ECP said, without giving the exact date for the polls, leaving some room for flexibility. Reliable sources, on the other hand, indicated that January 28 is the likely polling day.

On September 1, the ECP expedited the delimitation process to meet the November 30 deadline, allowing for elections to take place in late January 2024. This decision was made in response to feedback from political parties and was meant to accommodate the tight schedule.

The National Assembly was dissolved just three days before the conclusion of its constitutional term, invoking Article 224 of the Constitution, which requires elections to be held within 90 days of dissolution by November 7.

However, the final results of the country’s first-ever digital census were notified two days prior to the assembly’s dissolution, prompting the ECP to prioritize the delimitation process before elections, making it impossible to adhere to the 90-day requirement.

Criticism on ECP’s decision

While this announcement put an end to the uncertainty and speculation surrounding the election timeline, it failed to satisfy several stakeholders who insisted on elections within the constitutionally mandated 90 days after the assembly’s dissolution.

Critics further raised concerns about the ECP’s decision, arguing that a legal provision cannot supersede the Constitution. The ECP’s latest announcement followed a consultative meeting with political parties on October 4 to discuss the draft code of conduct for the upcoming general elections.

A recent amendment to the Elections Act grants the ECP the authority to unilaterally announce the election date. Nonetheless, the president emphasized the constitutional requirement of holding elections within 90 days after the National Assembly’s dissolution, setting November 6 as the “cut-off date.” He also suggested that the ECP seek guidance from the Supreme Court.

Interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi reaffirmed the caretaker government’s commitment to conducting free, fair, and transparent elections. He assured that the government would provide full support, including resources, administrative assistance, and security, to the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure the timely conduct of the general elections.

Mr. Solangi stressed the ECP’s responsibility to ensure a level playing field for all political parties in the upcoming elections, underscoring the importance of upholding democratic principles in the electoral process.

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