Election imbroglio

Will he, won’t he? This is the question being asked after President Arif Alvi met the caretaker law minister on Monday to consult on the date of elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has so far not announced any date for the upcoming general elections while media reports indicate that the president “is expected to announce the date for the electoral process anytime”. Reportedly, the caretaker law minister told President Alvi that the announcement of the election date is the prerogative of the ECP. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar is of the same view and the PML-N and PPP have expressed similar views, with Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto asking the ECP to announce polls date. While there are some within the legal community who say that the ECP can and should give the dates of the elections, a majority of legal experts say the president can still announce the date as constitutionally he has the authority to do so. And anyone with a basic reading of law and constitution should ideally be able to tell that the constitution is the supreme law – not statutes like the Election Act, 2017 (whether amended or not).

The political landscape of the country has also changed over the last few months, especially the post-vote of no-confidence and now post-May 9 events. PTI Chairman Imran Khan is behind bars, his party is in a disarray; PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is still in London though his brother and former premier Shehbaz Sharif has announced Nawaz will be back in Pakistan on October 21; PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has taken a different line than that of his father Asif Zardari in the matter of holding elections in 90 days; there is a caretaker setup in two provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – that has exceeded its constitutional term; there will be a change of guard in the Supreme Court in a few days and the judiciary is expected to take a different tune than the Bandial court; the caretaker federal government is busy taking care of administrative matters that some say are not even in its domain; and the ECP remains indifferent to all that is going on and is busy with its delimitation process.

It is not surprising then that Bilawal Bhutto has said there is no level-playing field for all political parties. This has been true for the last three elections also and now a fourth one will also likely face controversy in this regard. In 2008, the PPP had lost its leader Benazir Bhutto; in 2013, the PPP and ANP couldn’t openly campaign due to security threats; in 2018, Nawaz was behind bars and now in 2023 (or 2024) elections, the PTI is facing an existential threat. It may not be surprising for many political observers to see the PTI’s fate as the party was, is and will be only about Imran Khan. There is no second- or third-tier leadership that can step in like they have done in the PML-N or PPP if their leadership has been in a crisis. However, the uncertainty isn’t just for the PTI. With no election date in sight and despite assurances that elections will be held by February 2024, many observers say that without a date by the ECP, this uncertainty will not end. And if President Alvi decides to announce a date, it will inevitably lead to a constitutional crisis and the matter will end up in the Supreme Court once again, just like the Punjab and KP elections issue. This will lead to yet another turn on the not-so-merry-go-round that has been Pakistan’s politics of late. The people being disinvested in politics should hardly come as a surprise to the country’s politicians given how they have all abandoned any pretence at politics and democracy over the past few years.

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