After several months of excruciating wait on the issue of polls, the Election Commission of Pakistan has finally announced holding general elections in the country on Feb 8 next year. The announcement by the ECP came after a meeting between President Arif Alvi and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, who visited the presidency with the ECP members, on the orders of the Supreme Court. The date was confirmed by a separate announcement from the presidency which said that on the orders of the Supreme Court, the CEC along with the Attorney General for Pakistan came to meet the President to finalise the date for general elections.
It may be added here that during the hearing in the apex court earlier in the day, the ECP had proposed Feb 11 as the date for polls but it was asked by the three-member bench to approach the President for consultations. Polls were supposed to have taken place within 90 days of the parliament’s dissolution but the ECP dillydallied on the plea that more time was needed to redraw constituency boundaries after the latest census.
But better late than never. It is a good augury that all major political parties have welcomed the announcement of the general elections’ date and hailed it as a ‘positive development’. Significantly, the PTI, which had been the most vocal in its demand for early elections, has welcomed the ECP’s announcement. The PPP, PML-N, MQM-P and other parties have also hailed the ECP’s decision.
PML-N leader Irfan Siddiqui told the media that the ECP announcement will ensure political stability in the country, while the party’s spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said that PML-N had constituted an election cell, a manifesto committee and parliamentary boards as part of poll preparations. PPP leader Nayyar Bukhari welcomed the ECP’s decision but added that elections should have been held within 90 days as per the Constitution. He also said the ECP was answerable to the people and the Supreme Court for not holding elections within the 90-day constitutional limit.
Although the date for next elections has been announced, there are still misgivings whether they will be held in a free and fair manner. The Pakistan People’s Party has expressed concern about what it described as a “nexus” between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the interim government. In particular, it has expressed its reservations over the affiliation of caretaker federal ministers – Ahad Cheema and Fawad HasanFawad – with Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif. He also objected to the governor of Punjab’s links with the PML-N and called into question the role of PML-N leader and Senator Ishaq Dar as leader of the house in the Senate. In the meantime, the PTI’s Information Secretary has demanded that the Supreme Court punish CEC Sikandar Sultan for violating the Constitution by not holding elections for the dissolved provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP and unnecessarily delaying the national elections.
The caretaker government is mandated to ensure the holding of transparent and free elections. But with the country’s main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, having faced months of a nationwide crackdown, concerns have been raised about whether the interim government and the ECP are capable of holding fair elections. On the other hand, there are growing security concerns as the country’s northwestern and southwestern provinces are being ceaselessly attacked by the TTP militants.
With the announcement of elections, the war of words between the two erstwhile allies, the PPP and PML-N, has taken on a new edge. The PPP, apprehensive that the PML-N enjoys the favour of the powers that be, is seeking alliance with other parties. In this connection, the most important development is an invitation by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to join the Charter of Democracy (CoD), an agreement aimed at eliminating the solicitation of military assistance as a means to seize power or upset a democratically elected government. Voices have also been raised to release PTI chief Imran Khan and allow him to take part in the coming elections.
According to political analysts, unlike in the past, youths are going to play a crucial role in the coming general elections. The ECP data shows that youths aged between 18 and 35 number around 57.1 million, making up 45 per cent of those who are eligible to vote. This percentage in the 2018 elections was 43.8. According to the ECP data, the number of registered voters in Pakistan has increased by 21 million over a period of four years. The total number of registered voters in the country in 2018 was nearly 106 million. Now, it has risen to around 127 million as of July 25 this year. Those aged 56 or above number almost 24 million or 18.9 per cent of the total voter count. Male voters comprise 54 per cent or 68.5 million of the total voters while the number of female voters has also increased from 46.7 million in 2018 to 58.5 million. Political pundits are of the opinion that since Imran Khan is popular among the youth of Pakistan, a large voter turnout will go in favour of the PTI chief.