ECP postpones elections in Punjab citing 'security threats'

Financial crunch, security situation not allowing electoral authority to conduct polls on April 30, ECP says

Nausheen Yusuf
March 22, 2023
An undated image of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) building. — Facebook/ECP
An undated image of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) building. — Facebook/ECP

ISLAMABAD: In a surprise development, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday announced the postponement of the upcoming elections in Punjab — initially scheduled to be held on April 30 — citing security reasons as the major cause behind change of plan.

In light of the Supreme Court’s split ruling last month, President Arif Alvi announced the date for the Punjab polls after consulting the ECP.

Citing its responsibility towards ensuring fair elections in the country, the election organising authority in its notification recounted its various endeavours in trying to ensure that the commission carried out its responsibilities diligently.

The notification said that in order to organise and conduct the election in accordance with the law in a peaceful manner, the commission had written letters to the ministry of interior and defence for the "deployment of Pakistan Army/Rangers and Frontier Corps at all the polling stations" established for the conduct of general election to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab in static mode.

This was done in view of the heightened security situation in the province and the recent terrorist wave in the country, it added.

However, Punjab Chief Secretary and Inspector General (IG) informed the stakeholders in a meeting of the serious law and order situation, quoting various incidents in the province and the country.

For deputation on election duty, there is a shortfall of approximately 386,623 security personnel, the notification said, which can only be covered by deploying army soldiers and Rangers in static mode.

However, the Ministry of Interior had conveyed to the commission, via a letter, that the deployment of civil and armed forces as required by the election commission would not be possible.

The ministry had also attributed it to a spike in terror incidents across the country whereby the armed forces are deployed on the borders, internal security duties, etc. It was also added that the intelligence agencies and the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had issued threat alerts.

“Therefore, in their view, the conduct of general elections in the province of Punjab Assembly is not feasible on already announced date,” the ECP announced.

According to the electoral authority, it had contacted the interior and finance ministries for a meeting on March 9, where the special secretary of interior had said that “free, fair and peaceful elections are not possible due to deteriorating law and order situation, charged political environment and serious threats to political leaders.

“This will also expose the public as well as the leaders to a heightened risk of terrorism,” he said.

The finance secretary had cited a paucity of funds and the ongoing financial crunch as a reason for a lack of funds for the elections.

The notification also claimed that several senior-level members of the security agencies, including the police and the defence minister, and the federal government had recommended delaying the elections.

“Therefore, in the exercise of powers conferred upon it … the commission hereby withdraws the election program issued vide Notification No. F. 2(3)/2023/Cord dated 8th March 2023 and fresh schedule will be issued in due course of time with the poll date on 8th October 2023.

“The office is directed to take follow-up action accordingly and also to inform the President of Pakistan," the notification concluded.