ISLAMABAD: General elections would be held by mid-February at any cost, perhaps by late January if the delimitation of constituencies is completed earlier, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) assured the Awami National Party (ANP) on Wednesday, allaying fears that polls could be delayed indefinitely to extend the interim government’s tenure.
The assurance was given during a consultative meeting between the ECP and an ANP delegation to discuss a roadmap for the coming elections.
The meeting was chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja and also attended by senior ECP officials. The ANP delegation was led by its secretary general Mian Iftikhar Hussain and comprised central spokesman Zahid Khan, and party leaders Khushdil Khan Advocate and Abdul Rahim Wazir Advocate.
The Election Commission officials assured ANP leaders of squeezing the delimitation timeline as much as possible and said elections might even be held sooner, probably by the end of January, if the delimitation exercise was completed earlier.
They insisted that the ECP would not succumb to pressure from any side and that the elections would not go beyond mid-February under any circumstances.
The Election Commission said that under the already announced delimitation schedule, the process should be completed in 120 days (by Dec 14). However, it was also possible that the ECP cut the timeframe for delimitation and announced the election schedule along with the amended delimitation schedule in the next few days.
The ECP’s assurance came after the ANP insisted on a date and schedule for elections, even if conducting polls within 90 days of the National Assembly’s dissolution was not feasible. The PPP had made a similar demand a day ago to end the uncertainty surrounding the coming polls.
However, the ANP delegation noted that the ECP should have consulted political parties before announcing the delimitation schedule.
Later, Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters that the Election Commission had assured the party of fast-tracking the redrawing of constituencies so that general elections could not go beyond mid-February.
Mr Hussain said that during the meeting with the ECP, his party highlighted that holding elections within 90 days after the assembly’s dissolution was a constitutional requirement.
He said the assembly’s dissolution three days before the expiry of its term and the last-minute approval of census results by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) created doubts about the fate of polls.
The ECP has highlighted that once the census results were approved by the CCI and officially notified, the commission was bound by the law to redraw constituencies as per the new census.
Mr Hussain also underlined the need for a level playing field for all the political parties. To a question, he said the establishment had decided on its own to stay neutral and would not interfere in politics.
“They have said so and I am sure that being such a major institution, they would prove it. We have to believe if we want to take politics and the country forward,” he said.
Zahid Khan, ANP’s central spokesman, said the Election Commission was also informed about the party’s reservations over the latest census, which he said even showed a decline in the population of Peshawar.
Meanwhile, ECP officials also had consultative sessions with the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Balochistan National Party (BNP) on Wednesday.
The BAP delegation supported the ECP’s decision to go for fresh delimitation, noting that it would be an injustice to political parties, candidates and the public if constituencies weren’t withdrawn after the census approval.
The party asked the Election Commission to ensure transparent delimitation followed by free and fair polls. It also reminded the ECP to keep in view the weather in different parts of the country before announcing the election schedule so that no inconvenience was caused to the candidates and the voters.
BNP’s Agha Hasan Baloch complained that Balochistan’s population had been undercounted in the latest census and believed that the fresh delimitation following a “flawed census” would be meaningless.