The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) finally spoke out on the delimitation debate on Wednesday, blaming the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for the delay.
Meanwhile, under Article 224(2) of the Constitution, President Dr. Arif Alvi has ordered the ECP to recommend dates for general elections.
The development comes days after Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri dismissed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Alvi dissolved the lower house of parliament, and a senior ECP official stated that general elections could not be held within three months due to legal and operational constraints.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing the case to determine the legitimacy of the deputy speaker’s ruling, as well as the prime minister’s and president’s subsequent acts and instructions.
It claims to be capable of holding elections in accordance with the law and the Constitution; the president requests dates from the ECP for polling.
According to the president’s secretariat’s letter to the ECP, under Article 48(5)(A) and Article 224(2) of the Constitution, the president must choose a date for holding general elections within 90 days of the National Assembly’s dissolution.
“Consultation with the Election Commission is necessary under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act, 2017 in order to carry out the Constitution’s mandate of declaring the date for general elections,” the letter stated.
In a statement, the ECP, on the other hand, stated that it was aware of its legal and constitutional obligations and that it was capable of holding general elections in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
In response to harsh criticism from former cabinet members Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari, Fawad Chaudhry, and Farrukh Habib, the commission stated that it was following all constitutional requirements.
While the ECP is devoted to completing its legal requirements, it equally believes that other organisations and individuals should satisfy their legal and constitutional obligations on time.
It noted that with the merging of the former Federally Administered Tribal Territories (Fata) and the reduction of seats in tribal areas from 12 to six, the number of National Assembly constituencies had decreased to 266 from 272.
According to the ECP, the situation demanded a new delimitation, which was impossible to do without official census results. According to the report, on May 7, 2020, the chief election commissioner wrote a letter to Imran Khan, drawing his notice to the situation and requesting his involvement in getting the official results announced.
According to the commission, letters were also sent to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, as well as the secretaries of the Senate, National Assembly, and Bureau of Statistics.
The ECP further stated that reminders had been given to them, emphasising that constituency delimitation was the commission’s constitutional responsibility, but that it could not proceed until the final census results were formally notified.
The delimitation process began on May 7, 2021, when the official census results were announced, but it was halted after the government announced that it would conduct a new digital census, according to the ECP. The commission also wrote letters to the government on December 30, 2021, and January 21, 2022, urging it to expedite the census process, which it did not do.
The ECP also cautioned PTI leaders from making baseless accusations against it.
Meanwhile, ECP sources said the letter, in which the commission was asked to recommend election dates, will be answered once the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the deputy speaker’s judgement and following actions.
A source said that under section 17(1) of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP was responsible for delimiting territorial constituencies for elections to the National Assembly, each provincial assembly, and local governments in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Act, the rules, and the applicable local government law while setting a poll date.
“The commission shall delimit constituencies when every census is officially published,” says Section 17(2) of the Act.
He also cited Section 21 of the Elections Act, which states:
(1) The Commission may receive and consider representations, hold inquiries, summon witnesses, and record evidence for the purpose of delimiting constituencies, and prepare and publish a preliminary report and list of constituencies specifying the areas proposed to be included in each constituency in the official Gazette.
(2) Within thirty days of the preliminary report’s release, the Commission will accept public comments on it.
(3) A voter in a constituency may make a representation to the Commission regarding the preliminary report’s proposed delimitation of that constituency within the time stipulated in sub-section (2).
(4) The Commission, after hearing and considering any representations received, shall make such amendments, alterations, or modifications to the preliminary list of constituencies published under sub-section (1) as it deems fit or necessary, and shall publish the final report and list of constituencies shown in sub-section (2) in the official Gazette and on its website within thirty days of the last date fixed for making representations under sub-section (2).
A divergence from the law’s timetables, according to the source, would imply a compromise in election quality.
He stated that the deadline for completing the electoral process would be July 1, and that elections refer to the procedure that begins with the invitation of nominations and ends with the notification of returned candidates, as defined by an apex court ruling.
“That means the election day should fall between the second and third weeks of June, which would be impossible to achieve even if delimitation dates were pushed back,” he noted.
The ECP, on the other hand, was actively working on discharging its duties, according to the source, and had already addressed letters to all four provincial election commissioners, drawing their attention to the issue stemming from the president’s dissolution of the National Assembly.
It stated that the Election Commission had a legal obligation under Article 224(4) to hold elections within 60 days if the Assembly had completed its term and 90 days if the Assembly had been dissolved before its term had ended.
“In light of the current circumstances,” the letters said, “it is desired that…updated and duly authenticated maps be obtained from the provincial government as soon as possible.”
Authenticated lists of administrative units have also been requested from provincial election commissioners.