ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s categorical statement that he would leave the government upon the completion of the five-year term of the National Assembly in August has clarified, to some extent, the rulers’ intentions regarding elections in the country this year, but the timing of the polls remains uncertain.
The prime minister revealed that his government’s tenure would finish next month during the inauguration of the Pakistan Endowment Fund for Education on Wednesday.
He did not, however, clarify whether the coalition partners would seek a normal dissolution of the National Assembly at the end of its term on August 12, or whether he would advise the president on an early dissolution.
“A general election to the National Assembly or a provincial assembly shall be held within sixty days immediately following the day on which the term of the assembly is due to expire, unless the Assembly has been sooner dissolved,” states Article 224 of the Constitution. According to Article 224(2), in the event of an early dissolution, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is required to convene general elections within ninety days after the dissolution.
The provincial assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan also convened for the first time on August 13, 2018, thus their terms coincide with those of the National Assembly.
“I assure you that our government’s term will end on August 14.” The ECP will decide whether the elections will be place in October or November,” PM Shehbaz stated during the occasion.
However, the current National Assembly’s five-year constitutional term will end at midnight on August 12.
When contacted, a senior official from the National Assembly Secretariat stated that the assembly will be legally dissolved on August 13 and that there was no provision in the Constitution, other than the proclamation of emergency in the country under Article 232, to extend the term of the legislature.
However, a prominent member of the federal cabinet stated that the prime minister cited the August 14 date “only in the context of the country’s Independence Day.”
According to the minister, the prime minister clarified and indicated at future ceremonies that he would give over the administration to the caretakers “upon completion of the constitutional term.”
The statement from PM Shehbaz, who is also the president of the PML-N, comes amid speculation in various political and journalistic circles about a possible election delay, as well as statements from coalition partners, including the JUI-F, calling for timely polls. However, no official statement from the ruling PML-N was issued in this regard.
Furthermore, the mainstream media has been reporting inconsistent remarks from various coalition party leaders regarding the timetable of the general elections. Federal Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar, a PPP member, reportedly remarked that the legislature should be dissolved on August 8 to give the ECP enough time to hold elections in November.
However, another PPP cabinet member asserted that there had been no consensus in the party about the date for the dissolution of the NA and that Mr Qamar’s statement was his “personal opinion or suggestion.”
Another important cabinet member from the ruling PML-N informed Dawn that the coalition partners would settle the date of the assembly’s dissolution “very soon.”
“It will be a collective decision of the PDM and other coalition parties,” stated the minister.
Election law changes
According to sources, a meeting of the coalition parties’ leaders would be convened soon to settle the date of the elections. They also stated that the government intended to alter the election laws, and that a bill in this regard will be introduced during the assembly’s farewell session later this month.
The proposed law is currently being reviewed by the special parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, which is chaired by former NA speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. In its meeting on Thursday (today), the committee is likely to finalise the draught suggesting several important revisions to the election laws.
According to sources, the committee members proposed raising the cap on candidates’ election spending from Rs4 million to Rs10 million for National Assembly seats and Rs2 million to Rs4 million for provincial seats.
In addition, they stated that several committee members had urged that a time be set aside for the announcement of the poll results, and that the presiding officer be asked to explain the reason for the delay in the revelation of the election results.
The changes also recommended criminal prosecution of election officials proven to be involved in rigging, with terms ranging from 6 months to 3 years.
Following the discussion, Mr Sadiq told reporters that the elections statute contained up to 67 proposed revisions.