ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s major political parties are reluctant to hit the campaign trail due to uncertainty over the election schedule, after the country’s election body made an announcement that is likely to delay national polls.
General elections in Pakistan must be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly — which took place on Aug. 9 — as per the constitution. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced on Thursday that new constituencies will be finalized by Dec. 14, surpassing the November deadline for national polls.
Major political parties in the country, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Peoples Party, have publicly demanded the commission hold the polls within the stipulated period, but the election schedule remains uncertain.
The country’s top body of lawyers, the Supreme Court Bar Association, also sought the apex court’s intervention this week for national polls to be held within the constitutionally mandated period.
“We have been waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on the general elections date before starting our election campaign,” PPP Information Secretary Faisal Karim Kundi told Arab News.
“We want the election commission to hold the polls within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly.”
Kundi said his party was ready for the elections, “but we don’t want to exhaust our workers without knowing when the elections would be held.
“One of our teams is working on our manifesto which is expected to be rolled out in a couple of weeks,” he said, adding that the PPP would start an “active election campaign” to mobilize the public after the election commission issues a formal schedule for the polls.
“So far, there is no clarity as to when the elections will take place,” he said.
The PTI, the party of the former prime minister, Imran Khan, also said it was “not sure” when to kick off the election campaign and mobilize its supporters.
“We have been facing the wrath of the state for being the most popular party in Pakistan,” Sayed Zulfi Bukhari, the ex-premier’s close aide, told Arab News.
“Thousands of our workers have been arrested and dozens of senior party leaders are in jails for committing no crime. However, we are ready to take part in the polls.”
He said the PTI has already chalked out a strategy to contest the elections from each constituency across the country despite the “illegal and unconstitutional” crackdown against the party.
“This is a perfect example of pre-poll rigging as our leaders are being forced to switch their loyalty,” he continued. “A fresh wave of crackdown has been unleashed now. So, let’s see how many of our candidates they manage to remove from the party.”
Should the election commission fail to hold elections in November, it would be a violation of the constitution, Bukhari said.
“PTI opponents are petrified by its popularity, but we will contest the elections whenever they are held,” he said.
The PTI is currently facing multiple challenges, with its chairman and ex-premier Khan currently serving a three-year jail term on charges of illegally selling state gifts. He has also been disqualified for five years from holding public office and is now facing a major charge of being in breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s secretary of information in Punjab province, Azma Zahid Bokhari, said her party has been waiting for the return of its founding leader, Nawaz Sharif, from London to kick off its election campaign.
“Nawaz Sharif is expected to return to Pakistan within a month now to lead our election campaign,” she informed.
Sharif has been in London since November 2019 after securing a medical bail following his conviction in a corruption reference. However, he maintains that all charges against him are politically motivated and he never indulged in any wrongdoing.
Bokhari said the PML-N leadership was trying to prepare the election manifesto and launch a social media campaign.
“Our party is ready for the polls whenever they are held,” she said. “Delay or no delay, it doesn’t matter to us.”
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s senior leader, Shahida Akhtar Ali, said her political faction may launch election activities in different constituencies from next month since the “situation remains unclear as to when the elections will be held.
“The elections should be held within the constitutionally mandated time period,” she told Arab News, adding that her party was finalizing the manifesto and would distribute party tickets after the announcement of election schedule.
Senior leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Syed Amin ul Haque, said his party had inaugurated a central election office and was in the process of finalizing the manifesto within a couple of days.
“We have constituted committees at the provincial and district levels to allocate tickets to potential candidates to contest the polls, but we will kick off a formal election campaign after the process of delimitation of constituencies is completed,” he said.