Uncertainly grows as ECP tells SC Punjab polls on May 14 ‘can lead’ to anarchy

  • Says fair, peaceful polls not possible under prevailing ‘charged political environment’
  • ISI boss briefs chief justice on security situation prevailing in country, reports say

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday confirmed to the Supreme Court it has not yet received Rs21 billion from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) for holding elections to Punjab Assembly and expressed serious reservations over holding of Punjab Assembly elections on May 14.

On Tuesday in its report submitted to the Supreme Court, the ECP said it will not be possible for the ECP to ensure “free, fair and peaceful elections to the Punjab Assembly” in view of the ‘charged political environment’ and reports by relevant stakeholders including security agencies and the provincial government.

A three-judge bench – led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan – on April 4 had declared as “unconstitutional” the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to postpone the election for the Punjab Assembly to October 8 and ordered it to hold polls in the province on May 14.

 

 

On March 22, the ECP delayed the provincial assembly election in the politically-crucial Punjab province by more than five months, citing a deteriorating security situation in the cash-starved country.

 

 

The ECP report submitted in the same case on Tuesday, said: “In view of the detailed deliberation and considering the circumstances, reports, briefings and material brought before it, by the Provincial Governments, Ministries of Defense and Interior and the Intelligence Agencies, is of sanguine view that in the present charged political environment, and resultant volatile law and order situation, cross border terrorism, insurgencies, potential threats to the leaders and consequent lack of foolproof security, non-provision of troops in a static mode coupled with lack of requisite funds , it will not be possible for the Commission to ensure honest, just ,fair and peaceful election to the provincial Assembly of Punjab,” read the ECP report.

Moreover, if the police are not supplemented by the army and other law enforcing agencies in a static mode, security of life and property of voters, electoral staff and public at large will be at risk, it added.

“… the Commission is obligated to ensure that a conducive environment exists and whereby it is able to provide level playing field to the contesting candidates and the political parties besides ensuring foolproof security for the voters, being the primary stake holders and the polling staff and public at large.”

The electoral watchdog said the timeline of 90 days provided in Article 224(2) of the Constitution is a constitutional imperative as held by the Supreme Court in the order dated 31-03-2023. “However, there is another constitutional imperative in Article 218(3) of the constitution, obligating the Commission to organise and conduct the Elections to ensure that the standards of honesty, justness and fairness is fully met and not compromised on any account. In the absence of conducive environment and fool proof security, one imperative of 90 days will be at the cost of another constitutional imperative which is apparently not the intention of the framers of the Constitution,” the ECP said in its response.

It further said that the ECP had proposed the date of 8th October 2023, as poll date mainly on account of the intelligence-based operations (IBOs) being conducted in the Kacha areas bordering Sindh and Punjab and these IBOs have been supported by the Pakistan Army, the Punjab Rangers and Sindh Rangers.

The ECP said IBOs will require 4 -5 months at least to complete and will hopefully ensure that the TTP and other terrorist organisations are effectively neutered.

The commission is mindful, as stated, that there can be no compromise on the security and safety of the voters, polling staff and the public at large.

It maintained that the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan is not only to conduct elections but that such elections should be free, fair and transparent, so that the voters can cast their votes freely, without fear and peacefully.

“It is reiterated that the poll date of 8th October, 2023 as announced earlier is in keeping with the ground realities and it is also believed that if this schedule is not followed, it may lead to anarchy and chaos in our country, the responsibility of which ECP cannot withstand,” it warned.

Last week, the electoral watchdog had submitted a report to the Supreme Court, informing the apex court about the government’s reluctance to issue Rs21bn needed for the purpose.

Subsequently, the court had directed the SBP to release funds worth Rs21bn for elections from Account No I — a principal component of the Federal Consolidated Fund worth Rs1.39 trillion — and send an “appropriate communication” to this effect to the finance ministry by April 17.

Following the top court’s orders, the central bank on Monday allocated the funds and sought the finance ministry’s nod to release the amount.

An approval of government is required to release the amount from the FCF while the government has to get the National Assembly’s approval for its release.

But the same day, the coalition government managed through the NA the rejection of its own demand for provision of Rs21bn as a supplementary grant to the ECP for holding polls in the two provinces.

Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf put the motion before the house for a voice vote after it was moved by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar on behalf of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar through a supplementary agenda.

Meanwhile, military officials, including the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, met with the chief justice and two other judges late on Monday apparently to discuss security concerns related to the upcoming elections.

Reports suggest the meeting lasted over three hours and Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum, the director general of the spy agency, gave a briefing on security issues facing the country. Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Awan also attended the meeting.

 

Saleem Jadoon
Saleem Jadoon
News Editor at Pakistan Today

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