With the February 8 general election just a little over a month away, the upper house of Parliament on Friday passed a resolution seeking to delay the polls due to security concerns.
Interim caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi and PML-N Senator Afnan Ullah Khan both opposed the resolution, which was moved by independent Senator Dilawar Khan during a session with only 14 lawmakers in attendance.
The Upper House of the Parliament has a total of 100 members.
As he read the resolution out loud, Dilawar said the Constitution upheld the right to vote for every citizen of Pakistan and the Election Commission of Pakistan was bound to conduct free and fair polls contingent upon inclusivity and ensuring the participation of all regional people.
“The vote turnout in colder areas remains notably high during the moderate weather conditions. January and February are recognised as the coldest months in the majority of the areas in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.
Dilawar noted that various political parties had expressed their reservations regarding difficulties in ensuring participation in cold areas during the electoral process.
He expressed “great concern” on the recent attempts on the lives of JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, former lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, and other political figures.
“The Ministry of Interior has conveyed serious threats to the lives of prominent politicians increasing the challenges faced by political parties in exercising their right to a free and fair election,” Dilawar said.
He further highlighted that there had been a spike in attacks on security forces and citizens, particularly in KP and Balochistan. “The intelligence agencies have warned of militant attacks threats on election rallies in both provinces.”
The senator said alerts had been issued by intelligence agencies indicating imminent threats of militant attacks on election rallies, which could have a potential impact on the safety of citizens and the democratic electoral process.
“Cognisant of the resurgence of Covid-19 in the country and the health sector’s concerns about the potential further spread reaffirm that while holding the judgment of the Supreme Court regarding the election date in the highest esteem, the Senate of Pakistan, being the defender of the rights of the federating units is obligated to ensure the constitutional guarantees and eliminate fears of the smaller provinces, especially vulnerable geographical territories.
“The Senate of Pakistan hereby resolves that the conduct in elections without addressing legitimate concerns, facilitating sufficient opportunities for election campaign and guaranteeing the safety of politicians and citizens would amount to violation of fundamental rights,” Dilawar added.
The election schedule may be postponed to facilitate the “effective participation of people from all areas of Pakistan and belonging to all political shades”, he demanded, adding that the delay aims to uphold constitutional rights to political participation.
“The ECP is urged to promptly implement the postponement and ensure that all necessary arrangements are in place to facilitate the smooth conduct of elections and the revised date.
“The process of filing nomination papers and scrutiny shall continue with the revised extended timelines. The ECP shall engage proactively with relevant stakeholders, political parties and communities to address their concerns and foster an environment conducive to free and fair elections,” Dilawar said, adding that the house was confident in the ability of the electoral watchdog to oversee the revised poll schedule.
Immediately after the resolution was passed, PML-N Senator Afnanullah said the security situation in the country was indeed not good but highlighted that the conditions were worse in 2008 and 2013 yet elections were held.
“Will you delay elections on the pretext of weather and security?” he asked. “Why didn’t you say these things in 2008 and 2013? I want to keep this forward on record that general elections were held twice in February,” the senator said, alleging that “boot polish” had once again begun.
Afnanullah questioned if Pakistan, a country of 24 billion people, could be run without constitutional institutions. “Is this what you want? You don’t want a Parliament in the country?”
He said that several people wanted the elections to be delayed because of “personal benefits”.
Meanwhile, independent Senator Hidayatullah Khan said he had registered nine first information reports in the past two weeks against threats he had been receiving.
“The provincial candidate of the JUI-F escaped a bomb blast yesterday. We need to look at the situation with an open mind,” he stressed, claiming that pamphlets by the outlawed Daesh had been distributed in the Bajaur district.
“If there is consensus that elections can be delayed, what will happen? Does any party have anything against terrorism in their manifestos? At least tell this to the nation first,” Hidayatullah said.
“Chairman sahib, if this house has passed a resolution, it should be valued,” he emphasised. “We are dying, the Baloch and Pakhtun are dying, but no one cares. We don’t have the strength to pick up any more bodies,” the senator lamented.
Addressing Afnanullah, Hidayatullah said: “Your area is peaceful, you have been provided with a smooth level playing field. But value those who are dying every day, Balochistan and Fata are slipping from your hands.”
With thanks: Dawn News