Political parties in the country are holding their collective breath over the Election Commission's decision to first complete delimitations before announcing the election schedule.
This has created confusion and concern among political parties on the fate of the upcoming elections and consquently launching their respective electoral campaigns. They have expressed as much before the top poll body in one-on-one consultative meetings, which started this week.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been facing pressure from various quarters, whether in the government, political parties or even foreign countries, to hold polls within 90 days. However, the commission appears determined to complete the delimitation process per the recently notified digital census.
Last week, the ECP issued a schedule confirming that elections will not be possible within the 90-day timeframe outlined in the Constitution.
It reiterated that in a letter to President Alvi this week as well where it deemed delimitation a "foundational legal step" towards elections and that carrying out delimitations per the new census was critical to protect the fundamental rights of contesting candidates, political parties and electorates as guaranteed under Article 17 (2) of the Constitution.
But it recently said in a statement that it was not going to wait for the completion of the delimitation process to work on other election-related issues, such as updating the electoral rolls; rather, it would do the two processes simultaneously.
While this still does not guarantee holding elections within 90 days, it does suggest that polls will not be delayed by far too long once delimitations are complete.
Meanwhile, some political parties have suggested that the commission speed up the delimitation process to ensure that elections can be held on time.
Given the impending delays in the elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), who created the amendment that made it mandatory for the ECP to conduct fresh delimitations after the census, has suggested that the commission forego the need to delimit constituencies at this juncture.
When contacted, PTI's legal advisor Naeem Haider Panjutha, said that they have asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to avoid disturbing existing constituencies.
"We have also planned to challenge it in the court soon," said Panjhota, adding that PTI's delegation expressed their reservations to the ECP over possible delay in polls during their one-on-one meeting with the poll body.
Talking to The Friday Times, JUI-F senior leader Ghafoor Haideri said that in their meeting, they had asked the ECP chief to ensure free, fair and transparent elections without delay.
He said they conveyed to the commission that there should be no repeat of the 2018 polls.
About the delimitation of constituencies, he said the ECP must try to complete the delimitation process as soon as possible in the current year.
On the other hand, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ahsan Iqbal said that the ECP has ensured them that elections will be held on time once the delimitation of constituencies is complete.
Iqbal, a senior office bearer of PML-N and part of his party's seven-member delegation in the meeting with the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), said that their suggestions were focused on curbing election expenditures.
He further noted that the commission accepted their suggestions.
Referring to the previous election in 2018, he said that since the Result Transmission System (RTS) had been introduced, a more effective system is currently under development to address concerns raised during the 2018 election.
Separately, in a meeting of her party's central executive committee, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman stressed the need for holding general elections within 90 days. She questioned how the new census was approved in the Council of Common Interests (CCI), where their party's Murad Ali Shah was a voting participant.
"The polls in the country should be held within 90 days. The PPP delegation will take the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on board in this regard," she said. The PPP is due to meet with the CEC later in the month.
Dull election activity
Politicians are seemingly on edge, awaiting the proper green signal from their respective party leadership to launch electoral campaigns, as claims by the interim government to hold general elections on time have failed to convince them. As a result, few parties can be seen conducting electoral campaigns.
The Istehqam-e-Pakistan (IPP), led by Jahangir Tareen, is conducting political meetings-cum campaigns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Campaigns by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) were met with terror attacks.
Meeting with US Envoy
Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja received a visit from the US Ambassador Donald Blome this week.
Political and diplomatic experts deemed the meeting as very significant to remove confusion about the elections. They noted that election activity would definitely increase after this meeting as it had helped dispel any doubts about conducting the elections but had not proved too helpful in expediting the process.
However, those who raised concerns about interference did not realise that this was not the first meeting of a US envoy with any Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).
In the past, US diplomats have held meetings with the top election body near the general elections. For example, in 2018, US envoy David Hale met CEC Sardar Muhammad Raza and asked him about conducting general elections.
Likewise, before the polls, former US envoy Richard Olson met with the CEC Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim in 2013.
On the other hand, Pakistan's election regulator is so far defending its move to delimit electoral constituencies, citing constitutional obligation about CCI's approval.