Punjab assembly elections postponed till October 08 due to security reasons

ECP decided to postpone the elections earlier announced for April 30 due to security situation and financial crunch

In a surprising turn of events, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced on Wednesday,March 22 that the Punjab Assembly elections scheduled for April 30 had been postponed to October 8, according to a notification issued by the electoral authority. 

In the order,  the ECP said that in exercise of the powers conferred upon it by Article 218(3) read with Section 58 and Section 8(c) of the Elections Act, 2017, the commission “hereby withdraws the election programme and fresh schedule will be issued in due course of time with poll date on October 8”.

On March 1, the Supreme Court had ruled that the elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies should be held within the stipulated period of 90 days. It had, however, allowed the ECP to propose a poll date that deviates from the 90-day deadline by the “barest minimum”, in case of any practical difficulty.

On Mar 10, the ECP later wrote separate letters to the president and the KP governor. In the letter to President Dr Arif Alvi, the electoral watchdog proposed dates between April 30 and May 7 for the elections. Alvi later the same day announced that elections in Punjab will be held on April 30.

The order said that the ECP approached the interior and defence ministries in February for the deployment of the army and Rangers in view of the “heightened security situation in the province and the recent terrorist wave”.

It added that the Punjab chief secretary and police chief were also summoned on February 8 for a briefing on the prevailing law and order situation, adding that the officials reported on the spate of terrorist attacks in the province since January, prevention of over 213 terrorist attacks in the province in the past two months, the “serious live terrorism threats” present, the cleanup operations under way for eradicating terrorists that would take four to five months and shortfall of 386,623 police personnel for election duty.

The order said that the interior ministry also conveyed to the ECP on Feb 8 that the deployment of civil and armed forces would not be possible due to the “spike in incidents of terrorism across the country” and threat alerts from intelligence agencies.

After the apex court’s order, the ECP said it again approached the interior and finance ministries on March 9 regarding conducting polls and their security arrangements to which it was informed that “elections are not possible due to deteriorating law and order situation, charged political environment, serious threat to politicians” while the finance secretary conveyed that it would be “very difficult” for the federal government to provide polling funds.

The ECP said that it again convened a meeting with intelligence and security officials from Punjab and KP on March 10 and was apprised about their inability to help the commission in conducting elections, the possibility of election officials being kidnapped during polls and recommend that elections not be held at the present time.

The order added that on March 14 the ECP was informed that the Pakistan Army will not be available for poll-related duties due to the prevalent security situation within the country and on the borders while the Punjab chief secretary “categorically stated” that the provincial government would not be able to provide funds for the elections and foolproof security could not be assured with the assistance of the armed forces to the police.

Referring to the above briefings on the overall security situation in the country, the ECP order said that currently, only one security personnel on average was available per polling station due to a “massive shortfall in police personnel” and the non-provision of army personnel as a static force.

“The commission is unable to make alternate arrangements to ensure security of the election material, polling staff, voters and the candidates,” the order reads.

It added that the finance ministry had also shown an “inability to release funds due to financial crunch and unprecedented economic crisis in the country”.

The order pointed out that despite the ECP’s best efforts, the executive authorities and federal and provincial governments were not able to assist the electoral body in conducting free, fair and transparent elections in Punjab.

It added that after the briefings from the law enforcement agencies and federal ministries, the ECP had convened meetings on March 20, 21 and 22 to “deliberate extensive” on the matter of the Punjab elections.

“The commission after considering the reports, briefing and material brought before it, has arrived at the just conclusion that it is not possible to hold and organise the elections honestly, justly, fairly in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” the order reads.



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