The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seems to have put the case regarding intra-party polls against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on hold after the party ignored multiple deadlines set for the exercise.
According to ECP sources, the PML-N was originally due to conduct intra-party polls on March 22 of the previous year. However, upon the party’s request, the ECP extended the deadline, allowing them to hold the polls by May 14, 2022, and submit the related certificate by May 21, 2022, to fulfill the legal requirement for obtaining or retaining a poll symbol. Despite more than a year passing, the party has failed to comply with these conditions.
As per Section 208 of the Elections Act of 2017, all political parties are obligated to hold elections for office-bearers at the federal, provincial, and local levels periodically, in accordance with the party’s constitution.
Section 209(1) of the Elections Act stipulates that within seven days after the completion of intra-party elections, a political party must submit a certificate, signed by an authorized office-bearer appointed by the party leader, to the ECP. This certificate should affirm that the elections were conducted in line with the party’s constitution and the provisions of the Elections Act for the selection of office-bearers at the federal, provincial, and local levels. This section states, “Eligibility of party to obtain election symbol—(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, a political party enlisted under this Act shall be eligible to obtain an election symbol for contesting elections for Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), provincial assemblies or local government on submission of certificates and statements referred to in Sections 202, 206, 209, and 210.”
Despite issuing final show-cause notices to PM Sharif and PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal in November 2022, the ECP had received assurances that the polls would be held by the end of the year.
On January 5, the party was given an ultimatum to conduct the elections within a week or risk losing their election symbol. A week later, the ECP granted the ruling PML-N another “last chance” to hold the long-overdue intra-party elections, extending the deadline by two months. The case was initially scheduled for a hearing on March 14 but was inexplicably removed from the cause list, and the commission has yet to announce a new date for hearing the case, even after more than nine weeks.
Interestingly, during the previous hearing, a five-member ECP bench, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja, had granted the PML-N two months to hold the intra-party elections, although the party had requested less than three weeks to complete the process.
At the hearing, PML-N counsel Ahsan Jahangir explained that the intra-party polls could not take place due to the extensive commitments of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who had numerous responsibilities since assuming office. The PML-N counsel requested an extension until January 31 to comply with the commission’s order. Mr. Jahangir assured the commission that the party would fulfill the requirements and pleaded for the party’s symbol not to be withdrawn.
In response, CEC Raja commented that a person who was too busy to hold intra-party elections should not be the party president.
Additionally, three separate ECP benches are scheduled to hear seven cases against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its leadership,