Ministers say delay in elections on the cards due to ‘constitutional requirements’

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif have both stated that there is a possibility of a delay in holding the next general elections.

The government has announced that assemblies will be dissolved on August 9, following which elections should be held within 90 days of the end of the assemblies’ tenure.

However, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on August 1 that elections would be held on the basis of the latest census. Although some of the ruling allies, including the PPP, had opposed holding the polls under the fresh census, the Council of Common Interest (CII) on Saturday had approved the results of the 2023 digital census.

A day after the CCI ratified the census, making it almost certain that general elections may not be held this year due to the compulsory need for fresh delimitations, the federal government shifted the responsibility of conducting polls to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) within the next three months.

The ECP had in the recent past declared that conducting polls on fresh delimitation was not possible and that the exercise would require four to six months. The commission is expected to decide the time frame for fresh delimitation of constituencies later today.

Speaking on Geo News programme ‘Geo Pakistan’ on Tuesday morning, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that 2023 was not the election year. When asked if 2023 was the year when elections would be held, the minister said, “It is an absolutely straightforward answer — no.”

When one of the hosts commented that the upcoming caretaker setup had “acquired an unconventional significance as the one to get the role might stay for more than three months”, Sanaullah insisted that there was nothing extraordinary about it.

He went on to reiterate that under the Constitution, another general election could not be held on the 2017 census results as they had been accepted “provisionally for a single time”.

Emphasising that it was required by the Constitution to carry out the delimitation process after a census was notified, Sanaullah said, “The caretaker government, while fulfilling this constitutional requirement, will carry out the delimitation process.”

The minister noted that the process takes around 120 days so there was nothing about the elections being delayed by “many months”. “As soon as this constitutional requirement of delimitation is completed, then after that, God-willing, elections will be held,” he said.

Talking about the names under consideration for the role of the caretaker prime minister, Sanaullah said they were all “respected names and discussions were under way”.

“No name has been locked till now. Even if it is [decided], till today evening or tomorrow … there are more chances that it will be locked tomorrow,” he said.

Sanaullah had stated the same while speaking on Geo News programme, ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath’ last night. “I cannot predict the future but if 90 days have turned into 120 days, there is a clear constitutional argument present for it,” he said.

The minister said that under the Constitution, two elections could not be held on the results of the 2017 census, adding that the previous census was approved “provisionally”.

“According to the Constitution, if the census has been notified, delimitation is necessary after that. So on this basis, delimitation is to be conducted,” Sanaullah said.

“So these are constitutional requirements, which are being implemented according to the Constitution. It is not the case that the 90-day [limit] has gone to 120 days without any reason,” he said.

Khanzada then pointed out that in an earlier statement, Sanaullah had insisted that a new census was not needed.

To this, the minister replied, “Even today, I say that if this census had not been notified unanimously by national consensus, then the elections that were to be held within 90 days were to be held on the existing delimitation.”

The PML-N leader said it was a “huge blessing” that all parties concerned had accepted the 2023 census after their concerns had been heard and addressed.

In an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson that was aired last night, the defence minister said that elections were “due in November”.

He also pointed out that the National Assembly was set to be dissolved by Wednesday (August 9) evening, adding that under the Constitution polls would be held within 90 days.

“Ninety days in the deadline. One cannot go beyond 90 days. But under some conditions, the election commission has the power to delay it, because of some election problem or census problem or electoral role problem, for a month or two but not beyond that,” he said.

When asked whether the approval of the 2023 census would result in an election delay, Asif said: “I cannot speculate at the moment but it is a possibility. I won’t rule that out.”

Anderson then pointed out that the approval of the census came the same day that PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested in a graft case and wondered if the two developments were connected.

“No, they’re not at all connected. The census controversy was going on for the last many, many months. And we had to create a consensus between all the provinces of Pakistan so that the results are accepted by all the provinces,” Asif said.

“The delay was because of this controversy, Otherwise, the result of the census has absolutely no connection with Imran Khan’s conviction,” he said.

At the end of his interview, Asif reiterated that elections will be held in November. “I do believe that elections will be held in November. But you asked me if there is a possibility of delay: There is a possibility of a delay but not more than a couple of months on technical grounds, and no ulterior motive in that,” he said.

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