Supreme Court shuts all doors to election delay

In Islamabad, the Supreme Court has issued a ruling asserting that objections cannot be raised on the delimitations once the schedule for the upcoming general elections has been announced. The three-member bench, led by interim Chief Justice Sardar Tariq, addressed an appeal filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against the Balochistan High Court’s decision to alter the delimitations conducted by the ECP. The Supreme Court, on the ECP’s appeal regarding the delimitation of two provincial seats in Quetta, not only nullified the Balochistan High Court’s decision but also effectively closed the avenue for further legal challenges to delimitations, which could potentially cause election delays.

This development follows the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the Lahore High Court’s order that had temporarily halted the training of returning officers, a move that had raised concerns about possible election delays. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, leading the bench, instructed the electoral body to announce the election schedule, thereby dispelling uncertainty surrounding the timing of the polls.

Regarding the ECP’s petition, the three-member Supreme Court bench declared that the Lahore High Court should not conduct additional hearings on petitions related to the appointment of polling officers. Any matters concerning this issue should be referred to the Supreme Court instead. The Lahore High Court’s decision, prompted by a plea from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyer Umair Niazi, had suspended the ECP’s decision to appoint Returning Officers (ROs) and District Returning Officers (DROs) from the executive branch.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decisions, the ECP has finally issued the much-awaited schedule for the general elections. Earlier, the electoral body had faced challenges in adhering to the 90-day constitutional deadline for holding elections, as it needed time for fresh delimitation following the approval of the 2023 digital census results by the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

The ECP’s initial announcement in October about staging the polls in January, without specifying the exact date, drew criticism. In the wake of concerns raised by the PTI and others, the Supreme Court intervened, instructing the ECP and the president to consult. This resulted in a consensus date of February 8 for the elections. Despite these efforts, rumors and fears persisted within political circles regarding potential delays, with figures like Pakistan Peoples Party Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari expressing the view that a slight delay of “eight to 10 days” would not significantly impact the general elections.

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