ECP to put off by-election after Govt request

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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will consider a request by the federal government for putting off by-elections for ninety days on Monday.

By-polls are scheduled in nine constituencies of the National Assembly and three constituencies of the Punjab Assembly for October 16 (Sunday). The government’s request was received by the commission on Friday evening when its offices had closed. Sources said that ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan would submit the federal government’s communication to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja along his report tomorrow. The commission could seek certain clarifications from the federal government on an emergency basis pertaining to its request before taking a decision.

Sources pointed out that the commission may agree to granting deferment but it could be less than of 90 days. The Interior Ministry had requested the ECP on Friday to postpone by-elections for 90 days in view of “credible reports” from intelligence agencies that a “political party” was planning to besiege the federal capital. The ministry in its letter, in an apparent reference to the PTI, said that the party could “besiege” Islamabad between October 12-17, which coincided with October 16 — the date on which by-elections are scheduled. “This would require the maximum deployment of all available troops to maintain peace in the capital city,” the letter read. It also cited the losses incurred and the rise in diseases following the recent catastrophic floods as the reason for the postponement of by-polls. The letter said that most resources have been diverted toward relief and rehabilitation efforts across flood-hit areas in the country; therefore, it would put immense strain on government agencies including the Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps, Rangers, and other law enforcement agencies to utilize their resources and carry out extra work during election duties.

The ministry stated that if security personnel were not placed, it would raise questions on the credibility of the election as per the Constitution’s Article 218 clause (3), which mandates the ECP “to organise and conduct the elections and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the elections are conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and in accordance with the law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against”. The ministry has, therefore, requested the ECP to further extend the date of by-elections for 90 days or as deemed fit by the commission. The elections were scheduled to take place in NA-22 Mardan, NA-24 Charsadda, NA-31 Peshawar, NA-45 Kurram, NA-108 Faisalabad, NA-118 Nankana Sahib, NA-237 Malir and NA-239 Karachi.

Interestingly, Islamabad Capital Police have gathered more than 1,100 containers, with hundreds delivered to the federal capital in an effort to prevent the PTI from invading the capital. It is expected that the capital will be completely sealed for a week following the announcement of the march date. Schools and colleges will be shut and all exams would be postponed. Sources claimed that 25,000 additional personnel would be brought to the capital to reinforce the ranks of the police force. The government will also provide around 50,000 rubber bullets and more than 60,000 teargas shells to security forces in addition to ten drones fitted with guns to fire gas shells.

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