ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday decided to indefinitely postpone the by-elections in at least 10 National Assembly constituencies and three provincial assembly seats which were scheduled to take place between September 11 and October 2.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the election watchdog chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja which agreed to defer the polling for an indefinite period owing to floods and the unavailability of military and paramilitary personnel, currently busy in rescue operations, to perform duties on the day of elections.

The commission also cited flood-induced damages, displacement of people, and the law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as reasons behind the deferral of the by-polls.

ECP Secretary Umar Hameed Khan apprised the meeting that floods have destroyed transportation means and infrastructure across the country, resulting in a state of ‘national emergency’.

PTI opposes move, claims decision taken to ‘save PDM candidates from humiliating defeat’

Similarly, army and paramilitary forces were busy in flood relief efforts and it was difficult to recall them for election duties, the ECP added.

On Aug 23, the commission had written to the interior ministry to ask about the security deployment on the day of polling, the statement said, adding that in its feedback, the ministry said that the Pakistan Army, Rangers, and FC were engaged in flood relief operations, internal security and anti-terrorism operations. Similarly, as per the ECP, the military authorities also referred to the flood emergency.

During the meeting, provincial election commissioners of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Pun­jab also opposed the by-election on schedule due to flood-induced constraints. They said flood survivors had been housed in various government installations and buildings where polling stations were supposed to be established were being used to dispatch food to flood-hit people.

Subsequently, the meeting reached a decision to postpone voting and said a new date for voting will be announced soon. “Due to the devastation caused by the recent floods, the engagements of all institutions in relief operations, transportation woes, terrorism incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and mass displacement of people [due to floods], it is not possible to hold the elections on the scheduled dates,” the ECP said, adding that the availability of Pakistan Army, Rangers, and Constabulary — currently busy in flood relief operations — in the by-elections was “necessary to maintain law and order” on the election day.

It, however, said that election-related activities will continue as per the already announced schedule.

PTI opposes decision

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) took exception to the decision and termed it an “unfortunate” move to allegedly benefit the government. PTI leader Farrukh Habib claimed, “I have observed that whenever Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) faces difficult time someone appears to rescue it.”

In a comment to Dawn, Mr Habib asked ECP to clarify if there were floods in Faisalabad, Multan, Khanewal, Bahawalnagar, Sheikhupura, Nankana, Karachi, Charsadda, Peshawar, Mardan and Kurram.

“According to my information Punjab and KP did not request for the postponement of the elections,” he said, adding that the ECP should make the “requests of both provinces public” if they had indeed asked for the postponement.

PTI leaders Asad Umar and Shireen Mazari also criticised the ECP move and alleged that the decision was taken because the government was “afraid” of Imran Khan’s popularity.

“Seems like government chickened out and ECP obliged. Perhaps they forgot to tell Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari they were going to do this to save PDM candidates [from] humiliating defeats in all constituencies. They have run away from facing the people so terrified are they of the nation as it stands with Imran Khan,” Ms Mazari tweeted.

Election schedule

The elections on three seats – NA-157 in Multan; PP-139 in Sheikhupura; PP-241 in Bahawalnagar—were slated to be held on Sept 11 whereas Khanewal’s PP-209 would have witnessed an electoral contest on Oct 2.

Polling on nine NA seats was supposed to take place on Sept 25 as per the earlier schedule. These seats were left vacant after NA Speaker Pervaiz Ashraf accepted the resignation letters of 11 PTI leaders on July 27.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2022

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