Pakistan election body says ready for national polls in October

The five-year tenure of national and provincial assemblies ends on August 12, with new elections to be held within 60 days of the date.

Voters cast their ballot at a polling station during the by-election in Punjab province in July 2022
According to Pakistan’s constitution, after an elected assembly is dissolved, fresh polls are held under a caretaker government [File: Arif Ali/AFP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s election body says it is ready to hold national elections in October if the legislative assemblies are dissolved on time.

In a news briefing in capital Islamabad on Thursday, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) officials said if the national as well as provincial assemblies in Sindh and Balochistan are dissolved after completing their five-year tenure on August 12, general elections could be held no later than October 11.

According to Pakistan’s constitution, an elected assembly is mandated to serve for five years. After its dissolution on time, a caretaker set-up is put in place which holds the elections within 60 days.

Kanwar Dilshad, a former ECP official, said Pakistan’s constitution also says if the assemblies are dissolved before the completion of five years, elections should take place within 90 days of dissolution.

“According to the road map given by the ECP, if the national assembly as well as the two provincial assemblies in Sindh and Balochistan are dissolved as scheduled, we will see elections between October 8 and 11. However, if they are dissolved earlier, we can expect them no later than between November 8 to 11,” Dilshad told Al Jazeera.

Journalist and political analyst Cyril Almeida, however, believes the election dates will be decided by Pakistan’s powerful military, which has directly ruled over the country for more than three decades.

“At the moment, it is far from clear if elections will be held in 2023. And once past that hurdle, there’s no obvious reason they would necessarily have to be held in 2024, either,” he told Al Jazeera.

Pakistan is witnessing political turmoil since former Prime Minister Imran Khan lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April last year. The politician blames the military for plotting to remove him.

In January this year, Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, got the assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces his party dominated, dissolved as part of his failed gambit to force snap elections.

Traditionally, Pakistan holds national and regional elections simultaneously.

Despite a Supreme Court order in April this year, no elections were held in the two provinces and there is no clarity on when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will order the dissolution of the national assembly.

Meanwhile, Khan has been charged with dozens of cases, including corruption and terrorism, thereby putting his political survival under a question mark.

He was briefly arrested in May, following which thousands of his protesters stormed the streets, targeting government and army properties.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters (unseen) of former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan clash with police during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Islamabad
Khan’s supporters clash with police during a protest against his arrest [File: Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

Some of those protesters are being tried in controversial military courts.

Meanwhile, Khan’s speeches and news conferences are banned from mainstream media while dozens of his party leaders have quit after alleged coercion by the military establishment.

Analysts say the defections are a ploy to harm Khan and his party’s electoral chances, which have in the last year emerged as the most popular.

Almeida says the next election could be the “least free and fair Pakistan has seen this century”.

“PTI the party has been dismantled, but it is unclear if PTI voters will stay away from the polls or tune out in droves. The flotsam of the PTI will press the military hard to be accommodated in the next assemblies. All that manipulation will make for a fundamentally tainted vote,” the Islamabad-based analyst told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera