The average Pakistani has become lost in the haze of uncertainty that has engulfed the country. The nation’s desperate economic situation is a major factor, but political instability is also a cause for concern. First and foremost, despite the Supreme Court’s order that all branches of government work with the Election Commission of Pakistan to organise elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab within the constitutionally mandated time frame, there appears to be a reluctance to do so. The interior and finance ministries have informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that they will be unable to provide security and funds to the constitutional body in order for elections to be held in Punjab and KP.
According to reports, the ECP will need at least Rs 65 billion to hold general elections throughout Pakistan, with an additional Rs 20 billion needed for elections in Punjab and KP. President Alvi set April 30 as the date for the Punjab election after consulting with the ECP, which will reportedly reconvene the meeting on election security in Punjab and KP next week.
With the finance and interior ministries’ reservations about the elections, there is renewed concern that elections in both provinces will be postponed. However, legal observers believe that the Supreme Court’s decision binds the ministries as well and that they must provide financial and security support to the ECP.
There is some disagreement here, as some legal experts believe that the SC verdict only applies to the ECP and not to the ministries, and that if the ministries have a legitimate reason, such as a lack of funds or the inability to provide security, the ECP cannot compel the federal government or the security institutions to hold the elections on time.
However, there is more than enough merit in politicians’ and political analysts’ fears that this delay will set a bad precedent, and elections must be held in accordance with the constitution. It is reasonable to wonder what will happen the next time elections are announced and whoever is in power uses the same excuse. Does this mean that any sitting government or caretaker setup can postpone elections by citing such reasons? Even if these reasons are valid, this has the potential to cause problems in future elections. If these reasons are valid, then a way to collaborate on this must be found.
The government should work with the PTI to reach an agreement on election dates or ask them to return to the National Assembly and pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting separate elections. At the moment, there is no constitutional prohibition against holding provincial and general elections separately, which means that denying elections is inherently contrary to the spirit of the constitution.
Essentially, what is going on right now is a futile exercise. All it has done is exacerbate political uncertainty, with no one knowing whether or not elections will be held and, if so, when. It is unfortunate that elections have become so contentious during an election year. Politicians have only themselves to blame if they fail to recognise that such controversies can have undemocratic consequences. This problem must be addressed before it is too late. Already, various musings about a “technocratic setup,” a convenient crutch for many in the country, have circulated in recent months. This limbo must be abandoned.