The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced the schedule for the Punjab Assembly elections on May 14, after complying with the Supreme Court’s order to hold the polls. However, the ECP expressed concerns over the ‘transgression’ into its constitutional domain and claimed that it had been made a “punching bag” by state institutions. The commission stated that the institutions had tied its hands by granting stays in contempt proceedings.
The revised schedule was issued in a notification citing the Supreme Court’s order, stating that candidates had already filed their nomination papers, and their scrutiny was completed before the ECP delayed the polls until October 8 in March. As per the revised schedule, the process will start from appeals against acceptance or rejection of nomination papers which can be filed by April 10, while the appellate tribunal will decide the appeals by April 17.
Revised lists of candidates for each constituency will be published on April 18, while candidates can withdraw their nominations by April 19. Election symbols will be allotted to the contesting candidates on April 20, and polling for 297 general seats of the provincial assembly will be held on May 14.
Despite the explicit directives of the apex court, the cloud of uncertainty still looms over the polls, as the ruling coalition has expressed its disapproval of the verdict and refused to abide by it. There is no clarity on whether the requisite funds and security personnel for holding the elections will be provided to the ECP or not.
A senior official of the ECP said that the commission’s constitutional mandate to hold free, fair, and transparent elections was under attack, and the writ of the commission had been weakened. The official added that the Elections Act 2017 empowered the commission to try those involved in contempt of the ECP. But the subsequent action of institutions had diluted the commission’s authority.
The official regretted that the commission had been made “a punching bag” by different institutions, adding that a malignant campaign was launched against the commission and its head who also received written threats. Show-cause notices were issued over contemptuous remarks and the use of intemperate language against the ECP, but instead of recognising the constitutional position of the ECP, the courts granted stays against the notices.
The official said those who allegedly committed contempt did not appear before the bench as they were “certain of the support from certain quarters.” Referring to the Damask by-poll in February 2021, the official added that 20 presiding officers disappeared under a plan to manipulate the poll results. The ECP took a historic decision to uphold the transparency of elections and make bureaucracy answerable to the commission.
The official said action was initiated against the culprits, but instead of supporting the commission, other institutions suspended the order and granted stays. This had weakened the constitutional position of the ECP, putting a question mark on the holding of fair and transparent elections.
The ECP’s concerns over the transgression into its constitutional domain and the weakening of its authority are valid. It is essential to uphold the commission’s independence and strengthen its authority to conduct free, fair, and transparent elections. The state institutions should support the ECP’s efforts and refrain from interfering in its constitutional domain. The upcoming Punjab Assembly elections will be a litmus test for the ECP’s ability to conduct transparent polls amid institutional challenges.