Pakistan Reader# 661, 2 September 2023
Can ECP deliver faster elections while upholding constitutional mandates?
On 1 September, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) demonstrated its determination to expedite the general polls, by stating that it aims to complete the delimitation of constituencies by 30 November. This decision paves the way for potential elections in late January 2024, with 28 January as the most likely date, unless the Supreme Court intervenes. In case of practical difficulties, the election date could be pushed to 4 February.
An ECP official stated regarding the Supreme Court's potential intervention, "We will comply with it [SC order]." However, the ECP is still awaiting the Supreme Court's judgment on its review petition concerning elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa following the dissolution of the provincial assemblies.
ECP's commitment to expedited elections aligned within constitutional boundaries?
The ECP has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to conducting elections as soon as possible. This commitment aligns with feedback from political parties, with the goal of holding elections following the amended delimitation schedule. The Supreme Court’s recent judgement that rejected the ECP’s review petition holds the potential to result in implications that will be felt in the upcoming polls. Legal experts are of the view that the judgment sets a precedent that could influence the timing of elections as per the Constitution, which mandates them by 8 November.
Doubt over ECP's consistency regarding election timelines?
Recently, there have been concerns that question the reliability of the ECP in meeting the timelines put forth by the constitution. Earlier this year, the ECP refused to hold elections for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab assemblies within the mandatory 90-day period, defying both the Constitution and Supreme Court orders. Initially, the ECP indicated it was ready to hold polls within 60 or 90 days, its stance shifted abruptly regarding fresh delimitations. Due to the constant changes and shifts in stance, a sense of political instability and lack of trust has been brewing among both political actors and the general public. Until it recognizes that no law or court order can exempt it from its constitutional duties, concerns persist that it may find reasons to delay elections, despite its assertions to the contrary.
Striking the right balance between speed and constitutionality
The willingness showcased by the ECP in recent days towards expediting the elections, highlights that it holds a certain sense of urgency. This is further attested to with the Supreme Court’s judgement considered. Nonetheless, there are questions about balancing speed with adherence to constitutional mandates that are raised.
Given the recent (changing) decisions declared by the ECP over the course of the last month, it is vital to restore trust in the ability of the ECP to remain consistent. This is in large part due to the fact that if Pakistan wants to increase the degree of democracy and transparency in its election, a fair and timely electoral system is mandatory. As Pakistan navigates this critical juncture, all stakeholders must work together to ensure that elections are conducted in a manner that upholds both efficiency and constitutional integrity.
Iftikhar A Khan, “Delimitation plan altered to hold polls in January: ECP,” Dawn, 02 September 2023; Editorial, “ECP’s mantra,” Dawn, 2 September 2023