Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s election commission has set final election dates for two provinces whose assemblies were dissolved earlier this month as part of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s bid to force early national polls.
Provincial votes have historically been conducted alongside national elections, but Pakistan’s constitution also says new polls must be held in a province within 90 days of the dissolution of its assembly.
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The panel on Wednesday wrote to the governors of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, telling them elections should be held no later than April 13 and April 17, respectively. The governors can determine the exact dates.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which was in power in both provinces before the assemblies’ dissolution, welcomed the announcement that means roughly some 70 percent of voters would head to the polls months before the general election, scheduled for October 2023.
Khan has been demanding a snap national poll since losing power in April last year through a parliamentary vote of confidence. His party’s move to dissolve the provincial assemblies was meant to put further pressure on the government to announce the polls.
Taimur Jhagra, a PTI leader and former finance minister in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the governors in both provinces must immediately decide on poll dates.
“We keep seeing leaders of the ruling alliance making public statements about finding one excuse after another to delay the elections,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The federal government is uncomfortable with holding the elections right now and if they do go ahead, they know very well that PTI will sweep it. Opinion polls, public sentiment, everything shows we are on the upswing, and they are applying every tactic in the book to delay the polls,” he added.
Muhammed Zubair, former governor of Sindh province and a vice president of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, one of the key partners of the ruling alliance, dismissed the claims that the provincial polls could be delayed.
“There is nobody in government who is thinking otherwise. We don’t have to create any unnecessary panic,” he told Al Jazeera. “The election commission has issued letters to governors of both provinces for proposed dates of election. If there is any need for the delay, it will be the commission’s duty to go to court and explain the reasons for it.”
Majid Nizami, a Lahore-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera it was safe to “assume that the PTI holds a definite advantage” in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
“We can say that on the basis of results of by-elections in July last year as well as Imran Khan’s own victories when he contested in October,” Nizami said.
“If PTI wins the provincial assembly elections,” he said, “it is obvious who will win the national assembly elections.”