12th Feb, 2023. 09:10 am
Elections right away
It is as clear as day by now that the ruling coalition is in no mood to hold even the provincial polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), let alone agreeing to early general elections. The entire state apparatus – from the government lawmakers to governors as well as police chiefs of Punjab and KP – appears dead set in defying its constitutional duties. While the governors cited economic concerns as a reason to delay provincial elections, the police chiefs told the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that they are busy fighting terrorism. A rare show of unity, but at the worst possible time.
As per the constitution, elections are to be held within 90 days in case of early dissolution of the National or provincial assemblies. Turns out, in Pakistan, the constitution is a “piece of paper to be thrown in the dustbin” regardless of who is in charge. Oddly, or hilariously, enough, one PML-N leader has gone so far as to claim that the constitution speaks of no 90-day time limit to hold elections. For what is this embarrassing charade being put up? To deny the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) a shot at riding its popularity wave.
What makes the situation even more baffling is the government’s insistence on holding an All Parties Conference (APC) to discuss the resurgence of terror. It is undoubtedly a pressing issue, and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. But it appears that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif needs reminding that sitting governments don’t call APCs, they discuss matters inside the parliament. But we all know why the government can’t choose the latter. The fact that the PDM government has had to call an APC is proof that the parliament it occupies is toothless. What it further proves is that it needs the PTI [figuratively speaking] on its side to address the mammoth challenges facing the country right now. Why then must it try and frustrate every option that the PTI goes for, be it choosing to return to the parliament, or demanding early elections.
All eyes are now on the ECP. Expecting at least one institution to uphold its constitutional duties is more than fair. The people of this country are tired and have had enough of the ruling elite’s shenanigans and greed for power, for which the constitution has always been abused. The commission must show the same commitment to holding elections in Punjab and KP that it eventually did in having local bodies polls conducted in Sindh and Islamabad. President Arif Alvi also reminded the ECP earlier this week that holding elections as per the rules and regulations laid out in the constitution is its duty. The ECP has no reason to back off from its responsibility. It must not play second fiddle to the government in the unreasonable excuses it has been making to seek an unconstitutional delay in the provincial polls.
If the government thinks the economic situation does not allow holding separate elections right now, why does it not then call early simultaneous elections? The federal government cannot wriggle its way out of ensuring enough funding for the ECP to hold elections. Similarly, the police, or other law enforcement agencies also cannot bow out of their constitutional duties citing security concerns. Providing protection and ensuring such events are held fairly and peacefully is literally what they are paid for.
The only advice for the government right now is to look back at the furore it itself created against the rabbit that the PTI pulled out of its hat at the time of the no confidence vote. If that was wrong, so is this. The government must realize that the only loser in all of this will be democracy, and they don’t stand a chance at ruling the country if that happens.