Residents of Sindh’s two largest cities will finally get to vote for their chosen representatives at the local government level after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced that polling will be held on January 15, barely seven weeks from today. The announcement is a relief for residents of Karachi and Hyderabad who have seen elections delayed — first due to the devastating summer floods, and then due to a combination of security concerns and continuing concentration of government resources and manpower on flood relief.
While most political parties accepted the initial postponements as being necessary — the damage and destruction caused by the floods was visible to everyone — the Sindh government’s inexplicable decision to announce an indefinite delay forced the opposition parties’ hands, leading to cases being filed in the ECP. The focus of criticism was on the legality of the continuing delays, since under the law elections must be held within 120 days of assemblies being dissolved — whether prematurely or after completing their full term. However, while the PPP-led Sindh government claimed that the delay was necessary because its resources were still stretched thin due to flood relief efforts, opposition leaders insisted that the ruling party was afraid of the polling day consequences of public scorn for the party due to its role in the ruling federal coalition, which has been taking heat because of the back-breaking inflation and other economic concerns.
The ECP’s verdict, meanwhile, made it clear that the electoral watchdog thought the delays were intentional rather than unavoidable, while also ensuring that the announced date complies with the recent Sindh High Court verdict on scheduling the elections and the ECP’s own past precedent. Whatever the truth, we will see whether the predicted consequences actually do come about early next year.
In the meantime, the provincial bureaucracy has about two months to follow up on the extensive orders given by the ECP to get polling stations ready, appoint election officials, transport polling material, and make security arrangements. But while the federal government also got orders from the ECP to ensure that law enforcement agencies under its control depute enough staff to supplement Sindh’s own security officials, there have already been suggestions that The PTI’s agitation in Punjab and Islamabad may create a situation where Islamabad has to refuse orders to assist, creating a new legal imbroglio.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2022.
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