The Election Commission of Pakistan has stuck to its schedule and announced that local body elections in Karachi, as well as by-elections for national and provincial assemblies, will take place on the previously announced dates, with the exception of NA-45 in Kurram, due to the law and order situation. Local government elections in Karachi are scheduled for October 23, with by-elections for eight National Assembly and three provincial assembly seats scheduled for October 16. Three of the eight National Assembly seats are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three in Punjab, and two in Sindh (Karachi). All three by-elections for provincial assembly seats will be held in Punjab. There was no plausible reason for a postponement because all of these areas were not directly affected by floods, and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja took the correct step by reiterating his stance on this matter. The ECP’s primary responsibility is to hold elections in a peaceful and timely manner, with the assistance of law enforcement and local governments.
It is reassuring to know that the ECP has completed all of its preparations for the upcoming elections and that the necessary resources are available. Last week, the federal government sent a letter from the interior ministry requesting the ECP to postpone the by-elections for 90 days due to security institutions and provincial administrations being busy with flood rehabilitation and relief operations. The interior ministries argued that holding elections after the floods would put a strain on security institutions and call into question the credibility of by-elections. The federal government also mentioned the possibility of the PTI staging its long march to Islamabad during the week of the by-elections. Similarly, the Sindh government had asked the ECP to postpone Karachi’s local government elections for three months. Only unconditional and prompt support from the government and law enforcement will ensure a peaceful environment on the day of the scheduled polls.
Because the PTI is in power in KP and Punjab, there are legitimate concerns about the conduct of the by-elections there. The PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, have repeatedly questioned the ECP’s integrity, creating an uneasy atmosphere in both provinces. Voters will require a peaceful environment on election day, and any disruptions or inability of provincial governments to provide full support to the ECP may result in untoward incidents that will be detrimental to the country’s electoral process. In Karachi, the situation is likely to be different because the Sindh government has not raised any concerns about the ECP or its chairman. However, the situation is slightly different for the local body elections, which the Sindh government was unwilling to hold for a variety of reasons. Elections are a constitutional requirement, and elections for local bodies are required in any state that calls itself a democracy, as devolution of powers is an essential component of good governance. Flood relief and rehabilitation are the responsibility of a completely separate apparatus that is not directly involved in the election process. Sindh’s local body elections have been long overdue, and it is critical that Karachi has an elected local administration as soon as possible.
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