Elections now

CALLS have grown louder for an election date to be announced, following the return of Nawaz Sharif. Despite the clear constitutional provision that mandates elections to be held within 90 days, matters remain at a standstill following the Aug 9 Assembly dissolution. What has muddied the waters is the previous government`s approval of the 2023 census, and the ECP`s subsequent announcement of a delimitation schedule, which has effectively ruled out polls this year. Amid this delay which prompted the PPP chairman to say `elections delayed are elections denied` a debate over who gets to decide the poll date has erupted. Opinion was divided during a recent Supreme Court hearing on timely polls, with some naming the president and others the ECP. Both have dilly-dallied. The president wrote to the ECP suggesting a Nov 9 cut-off date and asking it to consult the superior judiciary. On the other hand, the election watchdog has refused to commit to a date, citing `technical` reasons, but assured parties that the polls will be held no later than late January. Worse, where political parties should have put up a united front, they themselves are divided on the issue, with the PPP and PTI using every opportunity to demand a definitive date, the PML-N seen as not being vocal enough, and the JUI-F seeing January as complicating the exercise due to the winter chill. The lack of a `level playing field`, however, has been a consistent complaint. All the while, the caretaker prime minister has asserted that the mandate rests with the ECP and has expressed hope that after delimitations, polls will be held in January more than two months after the lapse of the 90-day period. Most recently, he said the ECP will likely announce a date `soon` and brushed aside concerns that a `level playing field` was not being provided.

With the president distancing himself, and the chief election commissioner insisting that the ECP alone has the power to announce elections, what is the delay? In 2018, the ECP announced the election schedule before the assemblies` tenure ended. This time, while it has busied itself with the delimitation exercise, it would do well to remember that it has a constitutional duty to announce an election date. Vague time frames won`t do.

The time to announce a date is now.

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