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After meeting with ECP, PPP again calls for polls on time, announcement of election date



The PPP on Tuesday again called for holding polls within the constitutionally mandated 90-day period following the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA) on August 9, demanding the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announce the schedule for the polls.

The party reiterated its demand following a meeting with the electoral watchdog at its secretariat in Islamabad — where the ECP has been holding consultations with various parties on the electoral roadmap in recent days.

The consultations are being held against the backdrop of the ECP ruling out elections this year, while the 90-day limit for holding polls — mandated under Article 224 of the Constitution, ends on November 9.

The ECP reasons its decision to push elections beyond November 9 on the basis of the notification of results of the new digital 2023 census and Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, which states: “The commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

In line with this requirement, the ECP has said the process of fresh delimitation is expected to be completed by December 14 — over a month beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline for conducting general elections.

However, the PPP asserted after today’s meeting with the ECP that Article 224 of the Constitution mandated a timeframe for elections following an assembly’s dissolution and that it should be acted upon.

“The stance we adopted today is that the PPP wants the ECP to announce a new election date and the schedule for it. There is restlessness in the nation, and it is very important that a new election date and schedule is announced,” said PPP leader Nayyar Bukhari while speaking to the media.

He further said that the PPP would formulate its future strategy after a meeting of its central executive committee in Lahore where the ECP’s response to today’s meeting would be discussed.

Speaking alongside Bukhari, former commerce minister Naveed Qamar said the PPP had conveyed to the ECP its stance that the delimitation process would not be “extensive” as there was no change in the composition of provincial seats in the NA. Therefore, it could be completed before December, he added.

“The ECP assured us that they will deliberate on the matter and may announce a new delimitation schedule. They also said that they will give the election date shortly after that,” he added.

Besides Bukhari and Qamar, Sherry Rehman, Faisal Karim Kundi, Syed Murad Ali Shah and Naveed Qamar were also a part of the PPP delegation that met ECP officials today.

The PPP is the only party from among those part of an erstwhile Pakistan Democratic Movement-led ruling coalition in the Centre that has called for giving precedence to the 90-day constitutional requirement over the requirement for delimitation.

Later, the ECP said also confirmed the PPP’s demands made during the meeting.

It said the PPP called for the commission to reduce the time for delimitation and announce and election schedule and date so that the polls were held “as soon as possible” for the economy to improve, political crisis to be mitigated and uncertainty to end.

The statement said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja assured the delegation the ECP would complete the delimitation process as soon as possible and conduct the general election immediately after that.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has also expressed concerns about the delay in general elections, “particularly in view of past practices and domination of the undemocratic forces”.

The PBC urged the electoral body in a statement issued today to ensure timely polls.

Earlier this month, President Dr Arif Alvi had also invited CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections, citing his constitutional duty under Article 244 to get the elections conducted in the 90 days’ prescribed period. However, the CEC said in his response that participating in such a confab would be of “scant importance” after changes to the election law.

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

Additional reporting by Haseeb Bhatti and Irfan Sadozai.


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Fiscal reforms critical for economic stability, sustainable growth in Pakistan: World Bank



Pakistan’s economy slowed sharply in fiscal year 2023 with real gross domestic product (GDP) estimated to have contracted by 0.6 per cent, according to the World Bank.

In a report released on Tuesday, titled ‘Pakistan Development Update: Restoring Fiscal Sustainability’, the global body said the decline in economic activity in the country reflects the cumulation of domestic and external shocks including the floods of 2022, government restrictions on imports and capital flows, domestic political uncertainty, surging world commodity prices, and tighter global financing.

The report said the previous fiscal year ended with significant pressure on domestic prices, fiscal and external accounts and exchange rate, and loss of investor confidence.

“The difficult economic conditions along with record high energy and food prices, lower incomes, and the loss of crops and livestock due to the 2022 floods, have significantly increased poverty.”

As per the report, the poverty headcount is estimated to have reached 39.4pc in fiscal year 2023, with 12.5 million more Pakistanis falling below the lower-middle income country poverty threshold ($3.65/day 2017 per capita) relative to 34.2pc in fiscal year 2022.

“Careful economic management and deep structural reforms will be required to ensure macroeconomic stability and growth,” said World Bank Country Director for Pakistan Najy Benhassine said in the report.

He added: “With inflation at record highs, rising electricity prices, severe climate shocks, and insufficient public resources to finance human development investments and climate adaptation, it is imperative that critical reforms are undertaken to build the fiscal space and public means to invest into inclusive, sustainable, and climate-resilient development.”

Without a sharp fiscal adjustment and decisive implementation of broad-based reforms, Pakistan’s economy will remain vulnerable to domestic and external shocks.

Predicated on the robust implementation of the IMF stand-by arrangement (SBA), new external financing and continued fiscal restraint, real GDP growth is projected to recover to 1.7pc in fiscal year 2024 and 2.4 per cent in fiscal year 2025, the report added.

It said economic growth was therefore expected to remain below potential over the medium term with some improvements in investment and exports.

According to the report, limited easing of import restrictions thanks to new external inflows will widen the current account deficit in the near term and weaker currency and higher domestic energy prices will maintain inflationary pressures.

“While the primary deficit is expected to narrow as fiscal consolidation takes hold, the overall fiscal deficit will decline only marginally due to substantially higher interest payments.”

The report underlined that the economic outlook was subject to extremely high downside risks, including liquidity challenges to service debt payments, ongoing political uncertainty, and external shocks.

“These macroeconomic challenges can be addressed through comprehensive fiscal reforms of tax policy, rationalisation of public expenditure, better management of public debt, and stronger inter-government coordination on fiscal issues,” said Aroub Farooq, economist at the World Bank, and author of the report.

To regain stability and establish a base for medium-term recovery, the report recommended reforms to drastically reduce tax exemptions and broaden the tax base through higher taxes on agriculture, property and retailers; improve the quality of public expenditure by reducing distortive subsidies, improving the financial viability of the energy sector, and increasing private participation in state-owned enterprises.

The Pakistan Development Update is a counterpart to the semiannual South Asia Development Update by the World Bank. This report assesses economic developments, prospects, and policy challenges within the South Asia region, the lender said.


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India tells Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats: report



India has told Canada that it must repatriate 41 diplomats by October 10, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

Ties between New Delhi and Ottawa have become seriously strained over Canadian suspicion that Indian government agents had a role in the June murder in Canada of a Sikh separatist leader and Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who India had labelled a “terrorist”.

Nijjar, 45, was the president of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey, British Columbia and advocated for the creation of a Sikh state known as Khalistan.

India has dismissed the allegation as absurd.

On September 21, Trudeau called on India to cooperate with an investigation into the murder of the separatist leader in British Columbia and said Canada would not release its evidence for their claims.

India suspended new visas for Canadians and asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country on the same day.

Last week, the Indian foreign minister spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan about Canadian allegations of New Delhi’s possible involvement killing of the separatist leader in Canada.

Jaishankar said that New Delhi had told Canada it was open to looking into any “specific” or “relevant” information it provides on the killing.

Trudeau, who is yet to publicly share any evidence, said he has shared the “credible allegations” with India “many weeks ago”.

The Financial Times, citing people familiar with the Indian demand, said India had threatened to revoke the diplomatic immunity of those diplomats told to leave who remained after October 10.

Canada has 62 diplomats in India and India had said that the total should be reduced by 41, the newspaper said.

The Indian and Canadian foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said earlier there was a “climate of violence” and an “atmosphere of intimidation” against Indian diplomats in Canada, where the presence of Sikh separatist groups has frustrated New Delhi.


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Imran’s life ‘in danger’, moved to lower class cell in Adiala Jail: lawyer



Former prime minister Imran Khan’s lawyer, Naeem Haider Panjutha, claimed on Tuesday that the PTI chief was moved to a lower class cell at the Adiala Jail last night and feared the ex-premier’s life was in danger.

Imran was shifted to Attock jail on August 5, 2023, after a court sentenced him to three years in prison in the Toshakhana case for concealing details of gifts he received as the prime minister of Pakistan.

After his sentence in the Toshakhana case was suspended by the Islamabad High Court, the government detained the ex-premier in the cipher case. He has since remained behind bars on judicial remand.

On September 26, Imran was shifted to Central Jail Adiala from District Jail Attock following IHC orders passed on a plea filed by the PTI.

Last night, the police ramped up security in the vicinity of the Adiala jail by deploying elite commandos and setting up additional security pickets to ensure foolproof measures. The decision was taken in light of recommendations by the Special Branch and relevant departments following a survey of Adiala Jail.

Talking to reporters in Islamabad today, Panjutha, spokesman to Imran on legal affairs, said Imran’s wife Bushra Bibi met the former prime minister in Adiala Jail today.

“There is danger to Imran Khan’s life,” he claimed. “Imran can be slow food poisoned … he is being mentally tortured and his movement has been restricted.”

Panjutha alleged that he had received reports last night that the PTI chief was moved to a lower class cell. “Security personnel has been stationed outside the cell and mobile phones have been taken for them,” he said, claiming that these were new ways of “breaking” Imran.

The PTI lawyer added that a petition pertaining to Imran’s conditions in jail was filed in the IHC and the application was fixed for hearing on October 5.

“There were objection [by the court] earlier that the matter has already but decided but no directions have been passed on Imran Khan’s health, which is a basic fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution,” Panjutha added.


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