Thursday Apr 07, 2022
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday broke its silence over criticism by former PTI ministers, saying that the ECP is committed to fulfilling its legal duties and other institutions should do the same and refrain from unnecessary criticism.
Talking about the delimitation controversy, the ECP spokesperson pointed out that the National Assembly’s (NA) constituencies were reduced to 266 from 272 after the merger of ex-Fata, reducing its NA seats from 12 to six, and in such a situation, delimitation was imperative prior to the conduct of elections.
Holding the PTI government responsible for the delay, the ECP said the national census 2017 was provisional and it could not be notified. The ECP stated that it had written multiple letters to the government, prime minister and Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and other related departments, repeatedly reminding them that delimitation was the constitutional responsibility of the ECP and it could not be started until the census was notified.
After its efforts, the census was notified on May 6, 2021, and the ECP issued the schedule for the delimitation exercise and then the government decided to carry out a digital national census, therefore, the work on delimitation was halted.
After that, the ECP wrote to the government on September 30, 2021, and January 21, 2022, for early completion of the digital national census, so delimitation of constituencies could be started. But the digital census could not be completed. However, the ECP had resolved to carry out its responsibilities.
Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi Wednesday asked the ECP to propose dates for holding general elections in the country under Article 224(2) of the Constitution.
The development comes at the heels of the dissolution of the NA. The Supreme Court is hearing the matter to adjudicate upon the legality of the deputy speaker's ruling and the subsequent actions and orders of the prime minister as well as the president.
The letter from the President’s Secretariat to the ECP said that under Article 48(5)(A) and Article 224(2) of the Constitution, the president had to appoint a date, not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution of the Assembly, to hold a general election. "In order to carry out the mandate of the Constitution of announcing the date of general elections, consultation with the Election Commission is required under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act, 2017," it added.
However, the ECP, according to a source, is not in a hurry to respond to the president’s letter and would wait for the outcome of the related ongoing proceedings in the apex court.
Needless to say, under Section 17(1) of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP is responsible to delimit territorial constituencies for elections to the NA, each provincial assembly and to local governments, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Act, the rules and the applicable local government law.
Section 17 (2) of the Act reads, “The Commission shall delimit constituencies after every census officially published."
The ECP official explained Section 21 of the Elections Act.
"1. For the purpose of delimiting constituencies, the Commission may receive and consider representations, hold inquiries, summon witnesses and record evidence, and shall prepare and publish in the official Gazette a preliminary report and list of constituencies specifying the areas proposed to be included in each constituency.
"2. The Commission shall invite representations in respect of the preliminary report within a period of thirty days from the date of publication.
"3. A voter in a constituency may, within the period specified in sub-section (2), make a representation to the Commission in respect of the delimitation of that constituency proposed in the preliminary report.
"4. The Commission shall, after hearing and considering the representations, if any, received by it, make such amendments, alterations or modifications in the preliminary list of constituencies published under sub-section (1) as it thinks fit or necessary, and shall, within a period of thirty days from the last date fixed for making representation under sub-section (2), publish in the Official Gazette and on its website, the final report and list of constituencies showing the areas included in each constituency."
Moreover, the timelines provided in the law could not be compromised, as this would be tantamount to compromising the quality of the elections. However, despite all these stark realities, the ECP had already told all the four provincial election commissioners drawing their attention to the situation arising out of the dissolution of the NA by the president and that under Article 224(4); it was the constitutional obligation of the ECP to conduct elections within 60 days if the Assembly completes its term and 90 days in case of dissolution of the Assembly before completion of its term.