ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will meet today (Saturday) to deliberate on two important decisions of two different high courts that have added to the ongoing confusion over the timely holding of the general elections slated for July 25.
Just a day after the election schedule was announced, election authorities stopped returning officers from receiving applications from prospective candidates after the Lahore High Court declared that nomination forms lack some necessary information.
It ordered that the ECP may use old forms, namely the ones being used before changes were made through the Elections Act, 2017.
The other more important decision came from the Balochistan High Court. It scrapped the delimitations of Quetta and asked the ECP to conduct the exercise afresh.
“The process, if carried out, would take around two months,” officials said.
The election process had kicked off on Friday. Returning officers notified the schedule and started distributing nomination papers. RO’s were scheduled to receive nomination papers from June 2 to 6. This process has been suspended till Saturday at the minimum.
The nomination forms are part of the Elections Act, 2017. Contents of the forms are ascribed in Sections 62(2) and 110(2) of the act.
Many leading lawyers – including Aitzaz Ahsan of the PPP – believe that the only ways to make changes to the forms are through parliament, or a presidential decree in the form of an ordinance.
A senior ECP official told the Express Tribune that the commission has few options.
One option is to ask the government to get an ordinance approved by the president. “This would be a time-consuming exercise,” they said, adding, “It will certainly disturb the schedule of polls if not polling as a whole.”
Other options for the commission include making changes to the forms on its own and putting them on its website or notifying the restoration of the old form and asking ROs to use those. The official said this option would not disturb the schedule.
The ECP official cited a case from 2013 where the ECP made some changes in the nomination forms without waiting for approval from then-president Asif Ali Zardari.
The government then moved the Supreme Court, which declared that the ECP was competent to do so.
Before the Elections Act, 2017 was approved, forms were at the discretion of the ECP, but parliament made nomination forms part of the act, despite the strong reservations of the commission.
The ECP wanted to make nomination forms part of the rules, instead of the act. The ECP is only empowered to make changes to the rules.
ECP officials said the Balochistan High Court decision is a more complicated issue.
It would take at least one-and-a-half to two months to execute the whole exercise afresh, definitely delaying the polls.
Moreover, the Islamabad High Court has also sent many delimitation cases back to the ECP for rehearing.
However, the IHC has not asked doing the whole exercise afresh. Once the ECP hears the cases next week, those still unsatisfied with the commission’s decision might approach superior courts once again. This would continue to cause uncertainty.
To get out of such a situation, the ECP might appeal the high court decisions in the Supreme Court.