Based on recent statements made by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif there is a possibility that the next general elections may face delays.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had earlier announced that the assemblies will be dissolved on August 9 (tomorrow).
Based on Article 224(2) of the Constitution of Pakistan, elections should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of an Assembly – whether National or Provincial – and the results should be declared in a maximum of 14 days after the conclusion of polls.
However, when asked if the year 2023 is the year of elections during a news segment aired on a private news channel on Tuesday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said “In a straightforward answer – no”.
When asked about the possibility of a caretaker set up being around for more than three months, Sanaullah said that this is not an anomaly. He said according to the Constitution, a second election cannot be held based on the 2017 census as that had been accepted “provisionally for a single time”.
The 2018 general elections were held on the basis of the 2017 census.
He stressed that it is deemed necessary according to the Constitution that “once a census is notified, delimitation must be done before holding an election”.
The caretaker government will complete this constitutional process and carry out the delimitation process, added the interior minister, elaborating that this process typically takes around 120 days so it is not like the elections being delayed for “many months”
“Once this constitutional requirement of delimitation is completed, then God-willing, elections will be held,” said the minister.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had said last week that the polls would be held on the basis of the latest census and while some allied political parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had opposed holding the polls under the new census, the Council of Common Interest (CII) approved the results of the 2023 digital census on Saturday.
Shortly after that, the federal government placed the responsibility of conducting elections within the next three months on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Meanwhile, the ECP has stated that completing the delimitation process on the basis of a fresh census would require four to six months. The federal body is expected to finalise a time frame for the new delimitations later today.
‘No decision on caretaker PM yet’
During the news segment, Sanaullah was also asked about the names under consideration for the caretaker prime minister. To this, he said that no name has been decided on yet and it is likely that it will be decided by tomorrow.
The interior minister had made similar comments a day prior on another news segment aired by a private news broadcaster. “I cannot predict the future but if 90 days turn into 120 days, there exists a constitutional basis for it,” he said.
When the news anchor brought up an earlier statement made by Sanaullah where he had said that a fresh census was not needed, the minister said that had the latest census not been notified “unanimously by national consensus, then the elections were to be held within 90 days on the existing delimitation”.
At the same time, Sanaullah expressed relief at all relevant parties accepting the 2023 census after their concerns were addressed.
Separately, in a conversation with CNN’s Becky Anderson that was broadcasted on Monday night, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that under the Constitution elections are to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of assemblies and the National Assembly is scheduled to be dissolved by August 9 evening.
Asif said that the 90 days deadline cannot be missed but “under some conditions, the election commission has the power to delay it”. He elaborated that this could happen due to an election problem or a census problem or an electoral role problem. But this delay could only happen “for a month or two but not beyond that”, he added.
When Anderson inquired whether approval of the 2023 census could cause delays in the holding of polls, Asif said that he couldn’t speculate on it at the time but it is a possibility. “I won’t rule that out”.
The CNN anchor pointed out that the 2023 census was approved on the same day that the Pakistan Tehkreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief and former prime minister Imran Khan was arrested in a corruption case. She asked whether the two events were connected.
The defence minister denied this and stated that the census controversy had been going on for months and they had to reach a consensus between all provinces so that the results could be accepted by all.
“The delay was because of this controversy,” he said, adding that the census result had no connection with the PTI chief’s arrest and conviction.
Asif told Anderson that he believed the elections would be held in November. “There is a possibility of a delay but not more than a couple of months on technical grounds,” he said, adding that there was no ulterior motive for this.