Pakistan President advances elections by 3 days on SC's direction

Last month, the ECP announced that elections would be held in January 2024 but stopped short of announcing a date

Islamabad: Pakistan's general elections will be held on February 8, it was announced on Thursday after the election commission officials met President Arif Alvi at the directives of the Supreme Court, ending uncertainty over the much-awaited polls in the cash-strapped country.

The new date was announced by the President House in a statement following a meeting between the top election officials and President Alvi, hours after the election commission lawyer told the apex court that elections would be held on February 11.

On the order of the Supreme Court, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja along with Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan and four members of the electoral body met President Alvi to discuss the general elections date, the president's office said.

"The President heard about the progress the ECP has made in delimitation and for elections. After a detailed discussion the meeting unanimously agreed to hold General Elections in the country on 8th February 2024, it added.

Earlier, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) told the Supreme Court about the February 11 date during a hearing of a set of petitions calling for holding elections within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures.

Last month, the ECP announced that elections would be held in January 2024 but stopped short of announcing a date.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan and Justice Athar Minallah took up the pleas moved by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and others.

The ECP had announced earlier that 54 days were needed to hold elections after the completion of the delimitation exercise by November 30, and the apex court bench asked the lawyer of the election body to clearly state the stance on the holding of elections in the country.

In response, Sajeel Swati said that the final list of constituencies will be published on December 5 and all other arrangements including the drawing of constituencies will be completed by January 29. "Hence we decided that elections will be held on Feb 11, which is the second Sunday," the lawyer said.

Later, the chief justice in his order stated that the election date given would have to be implemented. "SC wants polls to be held without any arguments, the top judge said.

The ECP announcement coincides with the review talks between Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the release of USD 710 million second tranche of a USD 3 billion loan to the cash-strapped country to stabilise its debt-ridden economy.

The clarity on the election date will strengthen the hands of the Ministry of Finance during the negotiations which started on Thursday, although the IMF has not explicitly attached any such condition.

The issue of the election date had been dragging on for weeks after the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9, as polls should be held within 90 days but the ECP delayed it in order to finalise the electoral districts following the new census held earlier this year.

President Alvi had written a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on September 13 in which he proposed that elections be held by November 6.

However, the Ministry of Law and Justice later informed Alvi that the powers to announce the poll date rested with the ECP, not the president.

During the hearing, Justice Minallah asked why it took the president so long to write the letter to the ECP. On the other hand, the chief justice noted that the text of the said letter was vague.

The CJP said that holding elections was good and not a problem.
The ECP's lawyer, while sharing the schedule with the apex court, said that all arrangements including delimitation will be completed by January 29.

Explaining the delimitation process, the lawyer said it would take them 3 to 5 days to issue the final lists. He added that if 54 days are counted from December 5 then we get the January 29 date.

The lawyer said that the ECP was looking to hold the polls on Sunday to make it easier for the people to participate in the elections. He added that under this plan the first Sunday would have fallen on February 4 and the second would be on February 11.

On hearing this, CJP Isa directed the lawyer to ask the chief election commissioner to consult the president and get back to the court.
The decision has garnered mixed reactions from political parties. The JUI-F has opposed the timing of polls due to weather conditions, while the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party threw weight behind the ECP.

The PPP and PTI, on the other hand, have called for the immediate announcement of the election date and assurance of a level playing field.

The election date is expected to end the uncertainty in the country as political parties will now move into election mode.

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