Elections in Punjab – 04 Mar 2023

After the Supreme Court’s verdict regarding the delay in the announcement of a date for elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in which it instructed the government to hold elections in Punjab and KP, now the Election Commission of Pakistan has recommended – per the SC order – to the president that the polls for Punjab be held between April 30 and May 07. Almost immediately, President Arif Alvi – who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the elections in both provinces – announced that elections in Punjab will be held on April 30. The PTI has naturally welcomed this development. Ideally, this should settle the matter once and for all but we are living in strange times and it seems some political and legal observers believe that despite the date having been announced, elections may still be stalled in Punjab. If everyone that is supposed to be involved in the conduct of elections – the federal government, the army, judicial officers and others who have to aid the ECP – end up throwing their arms in the air, saying they are unable to help with the elections, there is little any party can do. And the matter in such a scenario goes right back to the courts.

While there is little doubt that elections must be held within the constitutionally-stipulated period of 90 days, the SC verdict has also been deemed as vague by legal and constitutional experts who have pointed out that if elections are not held on April 30, the ECP cannot be held in contempt since it has completed its consultation process with the president as the court had asked. Adding to all this is Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s comment yesterday that half the country’s elections would take place on the old census and half on the new, hardly a fair proposition. The finance minister also mentioned the much-talked-about cost of holding separate elections. On the face of it, elections should be held on time but if the caretaker government, finance ministry or other institutions that have to help the ECP with the process make an excuse, it is not yet clear if they can be held in contempt for a delay. There is another rumour doing the rounds in the capital: that the PTI could be asked to come back to the National Assembly and an amendment be made in the constitution that will disallow separate elections in the country. This would only work in the form of a quid pro quo; the going idea is that the carrot offered may be for general elections earlier than in October. Needless to say, these are all speculations for the time being.

As far as elections go, the PTI looks very confident – and rightly so; the party has managed to successfully counter everything thrown at it. However, the PTI chairman does still seem to be trying to get back in the good books of the establishment, saying in a meeting with journalists that he is ready to talk but nobody (from the establishment) is willing to talk to him. Whatever the result of these overtures, one thing is clear: the people of the country will very soon – if not already – have zero tolerance for the political games being played in Islamabad. The country’s economy is hanging by a thread. Our political players need to read the room and come up with a political, economic and social charter. And that includes all of them, including the PTI. They need to do this with or without elections. The country will only sink deeper without a stable political front.

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