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Defense ministry asks SC to take back order on Punjab polls

ISLAMABAD: The defense ministry asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to revoke its April 4 order setting May 14 as the poll date for the Punjab Assembly.

The request was made in the form of an application and a report, which were filed with the Supreme Court in accordance with its directions to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and other departments to provide reports after giving Rs21 billion to the ECP holding elections to the Punjab and KP parliament.

The three-member bench is anticipated to take up these reports in chambers on Wednesday (today), and the subject is likely to be heard in open court on Wednesday or Thursday.

In its case, the defense ministry asked the Supreme Court to give orders requiring general elections to the national and all provincial assemblies to be held concurrently following the expiration of the terms of the national, Sindh, and Balochistan assemblies.

The defense ministry says the armed forces would be ready for electoral duty by October; the ECP warns against staggered votes’; and the case may be heard in open court today.

The report largely repeated the arguments made by the head of Inter-Services Intelligence, the director general of military operations, and the defense secretary to the chief justice and two other judges during a nearly three-hour in-chamber briefing on Monday, as well as the earlier in-camera briefing to parliament.

The study also emphasized the importance of holding the polls on the same day in light of the country’s heightened security situation, stating that the military forces would be able to carry out electoral tasks by early October.

“Due to the prevalent security situation and counter-terrorism operations being carried out in KP and Balochistan, as well as intelligence-based operations in Punjab and Sindh, the armed forces, Rangers, Frontier Constabulary, and other forces are not logistically available to be repositioned and re-posted for providing election security, twice in a span of six months,” the report stated.

“Significant time is required to prepare members of the armed forces for election duty, given that much of the force has been actively engaged in operations for a considerable period of time,” the application said, adding that the security situation in Punjab and Sindh has been stable in light of the efforts of ongoing operations in KP and Balochistan, respectively.

As a result, any forces diverted from KP and Balochistan will have a direct impact on the security situation in Punjab and Sindh, according to the appeal.

The ECP informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday in its report that staggered elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were not viable due to large expenditures compared to holding elections on the same day.

The ECP fears that rigging will increase in the next phase, increasing the danger of violence because miscreants will have more chances to commit and plot attacks rather than a one-day limited window of opportunity.

The ECP emphasized that the current political polarization needs political consensus in order to reduce the political fever. Political polarization can be the triggering effect in an election, leading to a spiral of violence and increasing the risk to public safety during the poll. It is critical to establish some red lines and guardrails to promote tolerance and balance among competing political parties and candidates.

The ECP noted that if the Supreme Court orders staggered elections, the election could be held in six phases because re-aligning forces from one location to another for the next phase of the election would take approximately one month, putting additional strain on the public purse.

Because of the six phases, this staggered election will extend beyond Oct. 8, 2023, a date previously set by the ECP as the polling date.

The finance ministry, on the other hand, stated that it was difficult to sanction the release of funds following the National Assembly’s rejection of a government-sponsored motion to grant Rs21 billion to the federal government for meeting expenditure, other than charged, during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023, in respect of the ECP for holding elections in Punjab and KP.

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