ECP announces date for general elections

——- Says elections to be held in last week of January
——- Adds initial list for the delimitation will be published on Sep 27th
——- Seeks DCs help in election preparations
——- Announcement ends uncertainty surrounding general elections

By Asghar Ali Mubarak

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday announced that general elections would be held in the last week of January 2024.
The timeframe that was announced by the ECP today lacks a specific date for the elections. It also exceeds the Nov 6 cut-off date suggested by President Arif Alvi by more than two months.

In a statement, the election commission said that it reviewed work on delimiting constituencies and decided that the initial list for the delimitation of constituencies would be published on September 27.

After hearing objections and suggestions regarding the exercise, the final list would be issued on November 30, the commission said. It said that polls would be held in the last week of January following the completion of a 54-day election campaign programme.

Immediately after the development was announced, Pakistan’s dollar-denominated government bonds slipped by as much as 1 cent.

Most of the sovereign bonds slid lower, but the 2031 maturity fell by the most with of drop of just over 1 cent. The country faces a funding crunch and is widely expected to need a longer-term support programme from the International Monetary Fund after the election.

Today’s announcement comes a day after the ECP said it had scheduled a meeting with political parties next month to discuss the code of conduct for general elections.

According to the ECP, a draft code of conduct has been shared with political parties to get their feedback before finalising the rules of the game. The draft code says political parties, contesting candidates and election agents shall not propagate any opinion, or act in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality or public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule any government institution including the judiciary and the armed forces.

The ECP had ruled out elections this year, citing the need for fresh delimitation of constituencies following the notification of the latest 2023 digital census.
Since the National Assembly was dissolved three days before the end of its constitutional term, Article 224 of the Constitution mandates that elections be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assembly by November 7.

But at the same time, Section 17(2) of the Elections Act states that “the commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

During the last round of consultations with the ECP, political parties took different positions on the timing for elections with some highlighting the need for fresh delimitation and others — notably the PTI and PPP — calling for holding polls within the constitutional time frame.

Meanwhile, the ECP has penned a letter to the chief secretaries of the four provinces and the chief commissioner of Islamabad, apprising them of the upcoming elections and the commencement of preparatory activities by the electoral watchdog in this regard.

“Article 220 of the Constitution provides that all executive authorities in the Federation as well as in the provinces are bound to assist the ECP and the chief election commissioner in discharge of its function,” the letter sent to all chief secretaries by the ECP said.

Article 220 of the Constitution reads: “It shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the federation and in the provinces to assist the commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions.”

The letter further directed the chief secretaries to instruct deputy commissioners to assist district election commissioners and promptly implement several measures. The measures encompass providing administrative and logistical support, ensuring the availability of adequate secure storage space for both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials, including tablets for returning officers, and facilitating bulk breaking of materials at the district level.

It also emphasised the importance of providing sufficient security for the storage space.

Last month, President Alvi had invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections.

In his letter to the CEC, the president quoted Article 244 of the Constitution, saying he was duty-bound to get the elections conducted within the prescribed 90-day period once the National Assembly is dissolved prematurely.

But a recent amendment to the Elections Act 2017 empowered the ECP to announce the dates for polls unilaterally without having to consult the president.

Citing this change to the law, the CEC responded to the president, saying that participating in a meeting with him to decide the election date would be of “scant importance”.

Subsequently, the president sought the law ministry’s advice on the matter, and the ministry communicated to the president that the powers to announce the poll date rested with the ECP.

Earlier this month, the president wrote another letter to the CEC and, citing constitutional requirements, proposed that elections be held by November 6.

The letter came against the backdrop of reports that the president would unilaterally announce a date for the elections. But contrary to the said reports, analysts said that the missive was just a suggestion and not a declaration of the election date.