Connect with us


Constitutional quagmire: Untangling the delay in Pakistan’s general elections



The clash between constitutional mandates, the role of the ECP, and the political landscape’s influence all contribute to the complexity of the given situation.

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

German philosopher Karl Marx opens the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte with these lines and then goes on to give a series of examples of tragic and farcical figures from French history. It almost seems he was writing a warning for Pakistan.

In recent weeks, the last-minute approval of the census by the Council of Common Interests (CCI), and the subsequent initiation of the delimitation process by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) without announcing the polling date has raised fears that there may be no elections in the near future.

While it may still be too early to call, the fears aren’t exactly unfounded. For we have seen this tragedy play out before — hence the alarm that we may see a repeat of the days of Gen Ziaul Haq, who promised elections in 90 days, which ultimately turned out to be 11 long years.

In this article, we delve into the intricacies of the delay in general elections beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline, the electoral process, and the factors affecting the timeline for holding elections, focusing on the constitutional provisions, the election commission’s role, and the wider political context. Lastly, this article also critically assesses whether it is even possible to conduct the elections in 90 days, given the circumstances we now find ourselves in.

Parliament refused to allocate funds for the provincial elections in Punjab despite the Supreme Court’s orders.

In terms of human resource, the extent of this dependence can be gauged from the figures of election officials and security staff deployed on election duty in the 2018 general elections. According to the Senate Report, 2,720 district returning officers (DROs), 85,307 presiding officers, 510,356 assistant presiding officers and 255,178 polling officers were deployed on election duty. In addition to the polling staff, 371,000 active army personnel were deployed for security during the elections.

3. Judicial intervention and controversy resolution

The ECP has also historically relied on the judiciary for conducting elections and adjudicating election-related disputes. The appointment of judges as returning officers (ROs) — the person responsible for overseeing elections and announcing results in one or more constituencies — for elections in Pakistan has been a contentious issue for a long time.

Historically, ROs used to be judges from the district judiciary. However, this practice was discontinued by the judiciary under Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC), in the National Judicial Policy 2009, aimed to protect the independence and integrity of the judiciary by curbing its involvement in the election process, which could potentially expose it to political controversies and allegations of rigging as had been the case in the past. The policy also stated that the existing laws did not require the judiciary’s supervision for the elections, and that it should focus on its core function of dispensing justice.

However, this policy could not be implemented in the 2013 and 2018 general elections, primarily due to the ECP’s lack of readiness. In 2018, political parties also supported the ECP’s stance to appoint judicial officers as ROs.

The appointment of judicial officers as ROs in the 2013 and 2018 elections was a contentious issue that affected the judiciary’s reputation. The judiciary had decided to avoid getting involved in the election process, as stated in the 2009 policy, to protect its independence and integrity. However, the ECP and political parties requested the judiciary to waive its policy and provide judicial officers as ROs, believing that they would ensure a fair and transparent election process.

The judiciary relented in both cases, but faced allegations of rigging and bias from different political parties and candidates, especially from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, who accused the former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the Jang/Geo media group of rigging the 2013 elections in favour of the PML-N. The 2018 elections were also controversial and disputed, as many candidates complained about the delay in the announcement of results and the malfunctioning of the electronic voting machines. The judiciary’s role as ROs in these elections raised questions about its credibility, as well as its core function of dispensing justice.

Following the controversy, the ECP has been appointing ROs from the district administration, with deputy commissioners being granted the status of district ROs. However, this model also faced problems when the ROs appointed for by-elections during the PTI-led government’s tenure performed a dubious role in facilitating ruling party candidates in Punjab. The district administration is directly appointed and controlled by the provincial government — expecting it to be impartial in elections is perhaps asking too much from our system.

When the ECP, after a thorough inquiry, attempted to take punitive penal action against the ROs, the Lahore High Court (LHC) declared such action beyond the legal competence of the commission. Due to the partial failure of this experiment, the ECP recently attempted to revert to the old model — it once again requested ROs from the judiciary, but the LHC refused to provide them, arguing that it would affect judicial work and compromise the impartiality of judges.

At the same time, high courts also designate justices for Election Appellate Tribunals for adjudicating election disputes.

Constitutional courts, particularly the Supreme Court, also become major players in the elections. Due to the SC’s expansive interpretation of the Right to Association in the famous Nawaz Sharif case, political parties have become major players in constitutional litigation before constitutional courts. It is alleged with much credence that courts, especially the SC under CJP Saqib Nisar, were instrumental in handicapping and knocking out Nawaz Sharif and his party in the 2018 elections. It is being alleged that now the courts are being employed to do the same with Imran-led PTI.

Similarly, the precedent established by the controversy over the delay in general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies has further complicated the role of the higher judiciary. The SC, in a split verdict, ordered the elections to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies in line with the Constitution. However, the ECP and the outgoing ruling coalition refused to comply with the court’s orders, citing the need for fresh delimitation of constituencies based on the census results.

The SC faced legal and practical difficulties in enforcing its orders. It also faced resistance and non-cooperation from the executive, the ECP, and the military, who challenged its jurisdiction and authority. The orders were violated without any penalties, undermining the SC’s credibility and independence.

approved the census results on Aug 5, 2023. The approval was long delayed due to objections and concerns raised by certain provinces regarding the accuracy and transparency of the census data.

To address these issues and ensure data integrity, the CCI established a committee to conduct a third-party audit of the data. This approval was essential to initiate the process of constituency delimitation, which aims to create electoral units based on population and other factors to ensure equitable representation in Parliament and provincial assemblies. However, the CCI’s composition, including non-elected chief ministers from Punjab and KP sparked controversy and criticism over its representation and raised questions about its decisions.

Furthermore, the role of the Sindh chief minister, a member of the PPP, came under scrutiny. Despite being aware of speculations that the census results might be exploited to delay elections, the chief minister endorsed the same. Critics viewed this move as contradictory to the PPP’s stated opposition to election delays, deeming the opposition performative rather than a genuine commitment to democratic principles.

Preparing the ground: The delimitation process

The foundational phase of Pakistan’s election process is delimitation — the delineation of electoral constituencies based on census data. The primary objective is to ensure equitable voter representation and account for changes in population distribution. The ECP shoulders the responsibility of delimiting constituencies. The critical steps involved are:

1. Establishment of delimitation committees: The ECP assembles committees for each province and the federal capital, comprising its officials.

2. Obtaining census data and maps: The ECP obtains official census data and maps from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and provincial governments, outlining population and administrative divisions.

3. Determining district quotas: Based on the census data, the ECP determines the number of seats allocated to each district in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies, factoring in population, area, and parity.

4. Preparing preliminary delimitation: Delimitation committees draft preliminary constituency boundaries, considering principles such as compactness, existing boundaries, natural features, facilities, and public convenience.

5. Publishing preliminary list of constituencies: Committees release a preliminary list of constituencies in the official gazette, inviting public objections and suggestions within 30 days. This is the only step for which a mandatory minimum period of 30 days is required by law.

6. Hearing and deciding objections: The ECP reviews objections and suggestions from the public, making necessary amendments, alterations, or modifications within 30 days. The law provides a maximum period only; it follows that the ECP can decide on objections before 30 days as well.

7. Publishing final list of constituencies: A final list of constituencies is published in the official gazette, effective for the upcoming general elections.

According to the ECP’s announcement, the process of delimitation is going to take four months, the same as it took in 2017. There is no reason that considering the extraordinary circumstances, this process could not be cut short to 45-60 days. The onus to proactively disclose why the process cannot be completed earlier lies on the ECP.

Finalising the spectators: Preparation of electoral rolls

Another major step in the election process is the preparation of electoral rolls. Electoral rolls are the lists of eligible voters who can participate in the elections. Electoral rolls are prepared, revised, and maintained by the ECP using various data sources, such as the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), previous electoral rolls, and door-to-door enumeration. According to the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP is required to update the electoral rolls regularly with the help of Nadra.

Nadra provides the ECP with information about new registrations, deaths, transfers, corrections, and other changes in the status of citizens. The ECP then incorporates these changes into the electoral rolls and publishes them for public inspection and objection. It also conducts an annual revision of electoral rolls to ensure their currency and validity.

This step does not have to strictly follow every census or delimitation as the ECP is legally required to, and does in practice, update the electoral rolls. However, there is a risk that if the elections are to be delayed further, the ECP may issue a schedule for preparing electoral rolls. The possibility of this hurdle has been hinted at by the former ECP secretary, who is currently part of the Punjab caretaker government.

past schedule for elections in Punjab is any guide, the minimum time required for conducting elections after issuance of the election schedule is about two months.

Polling day

The third major phase is the polling day. Voters go to their assigned polling stations and cast votes for their chosen candidates. The polling officers count the votes at each polling station and announce provisional results. The DROs compile and consolidate the results from all polling stations in their respective constituencies and announce official results. The ECP declares the final results of the election after receiving and verifying all the results from the DROs.

delimitation of constituencies following the approval of a census, as is the case today. While delimitation is essential for accurate representation and ensuring equal population distribution among constituencies, it presents a potential conflict with the 90-day mandate. The ECP faces the daunting task of balancing the two constitutional mandates.

The ECP has proposed a schedule that appears to exceed the stipulated 90-day period, thereby raising concerns of constitutional non-compliance. According to the ECP’s projected timeline, elections could potentially be held at least three months later than constitutionally required. Critics argue that such a delay could undermine the spirit of prompt democratic elections.

A crucial aspect to consider is the political landscape’s influence on this situation. The outgoing PDM-led ruling coalition is accused of harbouring intentions to prolong the election timeline beyond the mandated 90 days. While some reservations were expressed within the PPP, there appears to be a broader push to delay elections. For instance, the delay in convening the CCI meeting to approve census results has raised eyebrows, hinting at a calculated effort to slow down the electoral process.

One argument advanced by the ECP is that the two constitutional requirements — timely elections and delimitation after a census — might be inherently contradictory, leading them to prioritise the latter. In a functional democracy with an independent election commission, this could be a legitimate justification. However, given Pakistan’s recent political history, scepticism is high.

The question of good faith becomes central to this discussion. Concerns have been raised about the ECP’s genuine efforts to expedite the delimitation process given the time-consuming nature of the process. The ECP’s alleged inclusion of extended timelines for each phase of the delimitation process raises questions about whether they are making an earnest effort to streamline procedures.

The outgoing government’s motives also draw attention. The delay in approving census results by the CCI, coupled with the potentially calculated delays in the election schedule, fuel allegations of mala fide intentions. Critics suggest that these actions collectively indicate a lack of commitment to ensuring timely elections.

idea of judicial restraint in matters concerning other institutions alongside like-minded judges, underscores the complexity.

They have previously criticised instances where the SC overstepped its boundaries by intruding into the domains of other institutions and superseding executive decisions and parliamentary legislations. This stance raises the query of how the SC can substitute the ECP’s decision with its own. The litmus test for such a judicial review would necessitate demonstrating the decision as either mala fide or unlawful — an exacting standard demanding compelling, irrefutable evidence.

However, the practical facet is equally significant. The SC’s capacity to enforce its decision, should it mandate the elections within a specific timeframe, is overshadowed by a disconcerting precedent — the disregard of Chief Justice Bandial’s order to conduct elections in Punjab and KP. The lack of consequence of this violation raises pertinent questions about the court’s efficacy in enforcing its decisions and maintaining institutional authority.

In short, Justice Isa’s stewardship faces a turbulent start. Striking a balance between the constitutional prerogative for timely elections and respecting institutional boundaries is an intricate tightrope walk. The outcome will profoundly shape not just the SC’s standing as the guardian of the Constitution, but also Justice Isa’s legacy as a jurist navigating a complex and politically charged landscape.

The clash between constitutional mandates, the role of the ECP, and the political landscape’s influence all contribute to the complexity of the given situation. Considering Pakistan’s history of political interference and the establishment’s influence, the major burden rests on the ECP to demonstrate its commitment to a transparent and efficient electoral process.

Ultimately, however, this requires a commitment to upholding democratic values by all stakeholders, including state institutions and democratic parties.


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


India resumes internet ban in restive Manipur after protests



India has reimposed an internet ban on the restive Manipur state after violent protests erupted following the circulation of photographs of two dead students killed during the months-long conflict, officials said.

More than 150 people have been killed in the remote northeast state since armed clashes broke out in May between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and the mainly Christian Kuki community.

The far-flung state has fractured on ethnic lines with rival militia groups setting up blockades.

A nearly five-month-long internet ban was lifted last week, but was reimposed late Tuesday after dozens were injured during violent protests in the state capital Imphal.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas as hundreds of angry students marched following the release of photographs of two dead bodies on social media, a 17-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man from the Meitei community, local media reported. The pair went missing in July.

The internet was then cut to curb the “spread of disinformation, false rumours, and other types of violent activities through social media platforms”, a government order read.

Biren Singh, the state’s chief minister, said on late Tuesday that officers were investigating the deaths.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for his administration’s failure to end the violence in the state, which is governed by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Human Rights Watch has accused the Manipur authorities of facilitating the conflict with “divisive policies that promote Hindu majoritarianism”.

Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the opposition Congress party, on Wednesday accused the ruling party of turning Manipur “into a battlefield”, in a post on X.


Continue Reading


Avastin use banned for indefinite period



LAHORE: The Punjab government has slapped a ban on the use of Avastin injection for eye patients for an indefinite period across the province, besides launching a portal to collect data of the patients affected by the drug and provide them treatment facilities.

The data collection through the portal launched by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department will help the government prepare a policy regarding the use of the injection.

Provincial health ministers Dr Jamal Nasir and Dr Javed Akram said this while addressing a joint press conference here on Tuesday.

They said the ban was imposed as a high-level inquiry was underway to find out the prime factors leading to vision loss among patients administered the injection in Punjab.

68 affected patients have surfaced in Punjab so far

They asked the affected patients to provide necessary information on the portal to get treatment and help the government in assessing the true impact of the drug’s reaction.

They said that so far 68 patients affected by this injection have been reported in the province, for whom special beds have been allocated in the Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi, Mayo Hospital, Lahore and Nishtar Hospital, Multan.

The ministers said a new 10-member committee has also been constituted by Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi to analyse the situation caused by Avastin injection’s reaction.

The committee will point out deficiencies and weaknesses at various levels in handling and use of the injection and prepare a comprehensive action plan to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future.

Primary Healthcare Minister Dr Jamal Nasir said this injection, available in the market in 100mg pack, was primarily meant for the treatment of colon cancer and its use for the treatment of eyes in diabetic patients falls under the category of “off-label” use, adding that the injection was neither fake nor locally manufactured.

“The diabetes patients require only 1.2mg dose and some people sell this injection in small syringes for this purpose,” Dr Nasir said.

He said the injection should be kept at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius temperature and administered to the patient within six hours of opening the pack. However, he said, apparently due to increase in temperature its chemical composition changed and this might have happened because of not maintaining the required temperature during its transportation.

Dr Nasir said that efforts were under way to arrest those who sold this injection in small syringes illegally, adding that the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) has also been directed to trace the doctors and hospitals involved in this issue.

The minister said that 11 drug inspectors in eight cities of Punjab have been suspended from service and an inquiry has been ordered against them for failing to check the illegal sale of the injection in small doses.

Punjab Specialized Healthcare Department Minister Dr Javed Akram said new members have been added to the committee constituted by the chief minister, including Professor of Microbiology Dr Sidra, Professor of Ophthalmology Dr Moin and Professor of Forensic Medicine Dr Allah Rakha.

He said the committee would also inspect the premises where the injection was being packaged in small syringes and determine whether those places were suitable for the process or not.

Apart from this, he said, the record of temperature maintained during shipment, off-loading and transportation etc of the “contaminated” lot of the injection would also be sought from Switzerland-based company.

Dr Akram apprehended that it seemed good clinical practices had not been taken into account while using this injection for eye treatment. He said it was mandatory to seek consent of the patient in local language before administering the injection, adding that those responsible for this episode would be held accountable without any leniency.

PHC: The Board of Commissioners of the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) has directed the senior management of the commission to be prepared for special inspections of the hospitals where eye infection cases were reported due to the administration of Avastin injection to the patients.

The directions were issued in an emergent meeting of the PHC Board of Commissioners (BoC) headed by chairperson retired Justice Muhammad Bilal Khan.

A representative of the PHC, who had attended the meeting of the recently formed committee by the government also attended the BoC meeting.

He briefed the BoC regarding the proceedings of the meeting convened by both interim health ministers – Prof Javed Akram and Dr Jamal Nasir.

The BoC was informed that the issues related to import, compounding and dispensing of the dosage for eye patients will be investigated by the committee, while the PHC was asked to investigate the practices in the hospitals where the injection was administered.

After deliberations, the BoC directed the PHC senior management to make preparations for any action, especially, the inspections of the hospitals where the infections have been reported.

The BoC also ordered inspections of these healthcare establishments to ensure implementation of the minimum service delivery standards, especially pertaining to infection protection and control, medication management, qualifications of the medics, and sterilisation of operation theatres.

The BoC also ordered issuance of an advisory for the affected patients to initiate complaint about these incidents. For this, they can also WhatsApp their complaints at 0306 0843500, for initiation of investigation by the PHC.

In a related development, the Lahore police arrested a suspect, Bilal, from Arifwala, in connection with Avastin injection scam.

The police said a case had been registered against the suspect by Faisal Town police.

A special police team investigating the case traced the location of the suspect at Arifwala and arrested him in a raid on a premises, with the help of local police, sources said.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023


Continue Reading


Senate panel summons foreign ministry, AGP to explain ‘US objections’ to Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline



The Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat has summoned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) to brief the panel on objections reportedly raised by the US on the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project.

Tehran has been claiming to have completed its side of the 1,150-kilometre pipeline for which a groundbreaking ceremony was jointly conducted by then presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Dr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the Iranian site of Gabd, near Chahbahar in March 2013 with an estimated cost of $7.5bn at the time.

Pakistan had committed to complete its side of the project by January 2015. However, in February 2014 then petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the parliament that the Iran-Pakistan project was “off the table” due to international sanctions.

Earlier this year, former petroleum minister Musadik Malik explained that despite being fully committed to its contractual obligations under the Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement (GSPA), the Government of Pakistan had been unable to start construction of the pipeline due to US sanctions on Iran.

Officials said Pakistan had requested Washington earlier this year for a solution for the project to help overcome energy shortages but had not yet received any response.

In August, Pakistan issued a notice of ‘Force Majeure and Excusing Event’ to Iran to suspend its contractual obligation on completion of the gas pipeline. Simply put, Pakistan had expressed its inability to pursue the project as long as US sanctions on Iran remain in place or Washington tacitly green lights Islamabad to go ahead with the project.

The matter came under discussion today during the Senate panel today.

Petroleum Additional Secretary Hassan Yousafzai briefed the committee that a deadline for 2024 had been given by Iran regarding the completion of the gas pipeline and failure to meet it would lead to fines.

“We are trying to renegotiate the matter with Iran,” he said, adding that efforts were being made to find out other ways of obtaining gas.

The secretary further expressed concerns that Pakistan could be subject to “liabilities of $20 billion”. The issue, he went on to say, was also raised with the US.

“Laying the gas pipeline till Gwadar will cost us $2bn,” he told the panel, adding that reneging on the deal with Iran could lead to a whopping $18bn penalty.

Commenting on the matter, Senator Mushtaq Ahmed called for summoning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “find out why can’t we purchase cheap gas from the neighbouring country”.

“We should know the reason behind the obstruction,” he said.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Senate committee, Sadia Abbasi, highlighted that India never faced such restrictions. “How was the agreement even signed amid these restrictions?” she asked.

Here, PPP Senator Waqar Mehdi said the agreement was signed under the government of ex-president Zardari.

The Iranian pipeline was aimed to supply 750 million cubic feet per day (MMCFD) of gas, although it was vehemently opposed publicly and diplomatically by the US authorities, particularly when Pakistan and Iran signed framework agreements and GSPA in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Pakistan signed the pipeline agreement in 2014, which included a condition that Islamabad will pay billions of dollars in penalties if it abandons the project.


Continue Reading


Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved, Noor Marketing