With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali announcing May 28 as the date for provincial elections, the Punjab and KP elections appear to be on track. Do they, or don’t they? The Pakistan Army will not be available for election-related duties, the defense ministry informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday. The reason given is the country’s and its borders’ growing security crisis.
The Punjab elections, which are scheduled for April 30, right after Eid, will take place much earlier than the KP elections. Both will almost certainly necessitate extensive security measures, ECP preparations, and the usual electoral funds required to carry out the voting process. There has also been discussion about how much of a financial hit the electoral process will cause the country, which is already strapped for cash.
The Punjab and KP elections have sparked a larger debate among political observers and legal analysts: can the two provincial elections take place before the general election? According to most people, the answer is simple: yes. The constitution provides little justification for postponing the elections in KP and Punjab. A larger question is whether the state can afford an election, both financially and in terms of security.
Opinions appear to be divided on this. Some may see this as an excuse as well. They argue that if elections could be held in 2013, when the security situation was far worse, why can’t they be held now? They also dismiss financial concerns, claiming that if elections are not held in accordance with the constitution, it will set a bad precedent and provide any future government with a convenient excuse to postpone elections on the spur of the moment.
On the surface, critics of the provincial elections believe that if these two assembly elections are held now, while it may be too early to tell because there are many other factors in a general election, the PTI is in a good position to form governments in both provinces. If this occurs, general elections for seats in the National Assembly in Sindh and Balochistan will be held. While Balochistan is also up for grabs and Sindh is likely to return to the PPP, what happens in Punjab and KP? It will be challenging for political parties to secure enough seats in the center for the PDM and its partners to form yet another coalition government, according to electoral analysts.
The government and the PTI need to reach some kind of agreement in order to resolve this chaotic situation, which is being exacerbated by the PTI chairman’s impending arrest and his refusal to follow court orders while being targeted for arrest every other day by the police. Without the requisite security and other electoral backing, the elections will hardly be able to take place.
What should we do next, then? In the opinion of optimists, a constitutional amendment prohibiting the holding of separate elections could be passed if the PTI returned to the National Assembly. This has been discussed. While the courts and the provincial administrations have announced assembly elections for these provinces, constitutionally speaking, holding provincial and general elections separately is now not prohibited. With Ramadan only 10 days away and sights of utter mayhem at Zaman Park in Lahore, some level of normalcy must soon take hold.