ISLAMABAD: In what is seen as a surprise move, on Thursday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) agreed to hold immediate by-elections in eight national and provincial constituencies that were pending due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision, which would pave the way for the completion of the electoral college for the upcoming Senate elections, was taken at a committee meeting held here with Sikandar Sultan Raja, Chief Electoral Commissioner, in the chair.
In lieu of being invited, all the provinces, except Sindh, decided to skip the conference. Senior PPP leader Taj Haider attended the conference, which was also attended via video connection by Sindh Chief Minister’s Law Advisor Murtaza Wahab and other provincial government members.
ECP Secretary Dr Nazir Akhtar told the meeting that in two constituencies of the National Assembly and six of the provincial assemblies, the by-elections were overdue.
These include three constituencies of the provincial assembly in Sindh and one each in the three other provinces, in addition to one in each constituency of the National Assembly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Mr Haider, speaking on the occasion, said that the election for a vacant seat was to be held within 60 days under the Constitution and the statute.
He pointed out that for the Senate polls, the national and regional legislatures formed the electoral college and said that if the vacancies were not filled, the electoral college would remain incomplete.
He also pointed out that recent elections were held in Gilgit-Baltistan and referred to the U.S. presidential polls, where the spread rate of Covid-19 is high.
Mr Haider said that when introducing protection steps relevant to Covid-19, the constitutional duty should be fulfilled.
He said the Sindh government should ensure that during the conduct of the by-polls, the Covid-19 basic operating procedures would be followed.
In Umerkot and Sanghar, two of the three Sindh Assembly constituencies where by-elections are due to be conducted, Mr. Wahab said the number of Covid-19 cases was tiny.
The ECP also maintained the opinion of the provinces on the topic which it had previously obtained. Though Sindh and Balochistan had already expressed their readiness to hold by-polls the postponement was recommended by Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
After analysing the evidence, the Commission agreed to hold by-polls on vacant seats and asked the ECP Secretariat to release a timetable of by-elections for all vacant seats in the national and provincial assemblies.
The Commission also demanded the provinces to ensure full enforcement during the democratic process with SOPs.
Educated sources told Dharti News that the timetable for by-elections will be released today in the eight constituencies (Friday).
The two constituencies of the National Assembly where by-elections are to take place are: NA-75 Sialkot and NA-45 Kurram Agency.
PS-52 Umerkot, PS-88 Malir and PS-43 Sanghar in Sindh, PP-51 Gujranwala in Punjab, PK-63 Nowshera in KP and PB-20 Pishin in Balochistan are the provincial assembly seats pending by-polling.
The ECP had previously agreed, on 1 December, not to hold any pending by-polls before 31 January 2021.
A positive response from the PPP was evoked by the decision taken in the light of the advice of the National Command and Operation Centre overseeing coronavirus-related affairs, which claimed that the conduct of by-polls was a statutory duty that must be fulfilled.
Senate Chairman Sassui Palijo, the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs and PPP representative, voiced his disappointment about the decision and urged the ECP to revoke it.
The ECP has been heavily criticised for the undue delay in holding by-polls for three seats in the Sindh Assembly, one of which fell vacant in January.
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In a letter written to the CEC, PPP’s Taj Haider called his attention to Article 224(4) of the Constitution, which includes the holding of vacant seat by-elections within 60 days. He found out that the 60-day legislative period had already expired and questioned if under some excuse, the constitutional provisions should be set aside.
He reiterated that it should not be done and that action should be taken to minimise the detrimental effects of not serving the statutory responsibility.