Pakistan’s election authorities have delayed the election for a crucial regional assembly after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government refused to provide the necessary funds and polling staff citing financial constraints.
The elections for the legislative assembly in the country’s most populous Punjab province, which were to be held on April 30, were delayed until October 8, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced on Wednesday.
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Former prime minister and current opposition leader Imran Khan condemned the ECP’s move, calling it a violation of Pakistan’s constitution.
“Today everyone must stand behind the legal community – the judiciary and lawyers – with expectation that they will protect constitution,” he tweeted. “For if this is accepted today then it is the end of rule of law in Pakistan.”
By postponing Punjab elections till Oct ECP has violated the Constitution. Today everyone must stand behind the legal community – the judiciary & lawyers – with expectation that they will protect Constitution. For if this is accepted today then it is the end of Rule of Law in Pak
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 22, 2023
The poll panel’s decision came on the heels of a deepening political turmoil in the South Asian country, which has been struggling with a battered economy on the brink of default.
The ECP cited the security situation in the country and the shortage of funds as key reasons for the postponement of the elections.
In January, Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party got the assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces dissolved as part of an attempt to compel the federal government to call snap national elections.
“We dissolved our 2 provincial legislatures with expectation that elections would be held in 90 days as clearly given in our Constitution. We did not take this action to allow a bunch of fascists to impose a reign of terror, violating the Constitution & Rule of Law,” Khan tweeted on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, President Arif Alvi announced elections in Punjab on April 30 following a Supreme Court judgment that ordered elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces within 90 days, according to the constitution.
Pakistan traditionally holds the national and provincial polls simultaneously. Sharif and his governing coalition of more than 10 parties say they want to hold the national and regional voting on the same day.
Pakistani lawyer and columnist Asad Rahim Khan called the ECP’s decision to delay the Punjab election a “mockery of the law” and “destructive for democracy” in the country of more than 220 million people.
“This goes beyond voting preferences now: the principle – of the freedom to elect one’s representative – is at stake,” he posted.
‘You have to fight to the last ball’
Meanwhile, in a video released hours before the poll panel’s announcement on Wednesday, Khan once again alleged a plot to kill him.
“I am telling you again they are going to eliminate me sooner or later,” the 70-year-old former cricket star told his supporters without naming anyone.
“I am warning all of you. If I am arrested and sent to jail or killed, then you have to stand and never accept it as a defeat. You have to fight to the last ball,” he said, using a cricket analogy.
Khan was shot in the leg during a public rally in the capital, Islamabad, in November. Since then, he has largely confined himself to his residence in Lahore, capital of Punjab province.
Earlier this month, his home in Lahore’s Zaman Park area saw repeated clashes between the security forces and PTI supporters. Similar clashes were also reported from Islamabad, where Khan made a court appearance.
The clashes erupted after Khan’s supporters prevented the police and paramilitary forces from arresting him in a case in which he is accused of unlawfully selling state gifts during his tenure as premier from 2018-2022. He denies any wrongdoing.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday sought a parliament ruling to empower authorities to tackle the PTI’s alleged involvement in the violence. The ruling was asked for in a joint session of parliament convened over the political and economic instability in the country.
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Lahore on Wednesday, said Khan has been outspoken against the Pakistani military’s involvement in politics as well as the traditional governing parties in the country.
“Many here believe the ruling coalition government wants to see Imran Khan and his supporters go away quietly. There are calls by some to ban his party. But so far every move against Khan only seems to increase his popularity,” he said.