The decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone polling for by-polls in the wake of the recent monsoon season and resultant devastation is controversial. No doubt the rain and floods have left behind immense destruction and devastation, which is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, and now millions of families are homeless and await rehabilitation activities from the government. When the ECP announced election schedule, at that time, the country was braving floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Despite forecast for more rains and severe flooding, the ECP went ahead with the plans and completed arrangements for polling for NA-157 (Multan), and Punjab Assembly constituencies of PA-139 (Sheikhupura) and PA-241 (Bahawalnagar) on September 11. By-elections other nine constituencies of the National Assembly, de-notified after the resignation of 11 members of the PTI was accepted by the Speaker of the National Assembly, were to be held on September 25. These constituencies included NA-22 (Mardan), NA-24 (Charsadda), NA-31 (Peshawar), NA-45 (Karam), NA-108 (Faisalabad) NA-118 (Nankana Sahib) NA-237 (Malir), NA-239 (Karachi) and NA-246 (Karachi South). The ECP postponed polling for NA-157 (Multan), and Punjab Assembly constituencies of PA-139 (Sheikhupura) and PA-241 (Bahawalnagar), to be held on September 11, just three days before the polling. These areas are not under floods, whereas arrangements were also complete for the smooth conduct of the polling but the ECP postponed the polling disregarding the candidates’ weeks-long electioneering.
The ECP cited the lack of security staff for the polling day, saying the Pakistan Army, Rangers and other security agencies personnel are working day and night to help and rehabilitate the victims. It said these are the conditions in which it is practically next to impossible to conduct by-elections on the given dates. The provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab have sought postponement of local body elections, and for that the ECP stuck to the provincial governments’ stance but in the case of the September 11 polling, no such request was forwarded from the Punjab government. The chief election commissioner is already under from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. He must avoid taking such arbitrary decisions. His decision has been challenged by Ali Musa Gilani, the PPP candidate for NA-157, in the Lahore High Court, Multan bench. Let us not make elections unpredictable. Polling cannot and should not hamper flood relief activities.