ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan has assigned electoral staff for holding by-elections in six constituencies earlier next month - a development that negates the possibility of not conducting by-polls after November 17 due to constitutional constraints.

The electoral body on Friday announced having appointed district returning officers (DROs), returning officers (ROs) and assistant returning officers (ARO) for six seats including three from Punjab Assembly, two National Assembly and a Sindh Assembly seat for by-elections on December 4. All of the said seats had fallen vacant due to the disqualification of the legislators concerned in consequence of a court ruling against dual-national lawmakers.

The polls postponement had raised the question whether the by-polls could be held after November 17, the previously scheduled polls date, in the light of Article 224 (4) of the constitution. It states, “When, except by dissolution of the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly, a seat in any such assembly has become vacant not later than one hundred and twenty days before the term of that assembly is due to expire, an election to fill the seat shall be held within sixty days from the occurrence of the vacancy.”   

The present assemblies meet their constitutional term on March 18 that makes November 17 the deadline for by-polls conduct.

The electoral body had postponed the by-polls following requests from the Punjab and Sindh assemblies for polls postponement due to high security threats in first ten days of Muharram. 

Talking to The Nation, former Secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad said, the postponed by-polls on six seats could be held next month because the constitutional provisions bar conducting fresh by-polls after November 17 and but not those scheduled earlier and postponed due to certain reasons. “No fresh by-polls on any national or provincial assembly seat can be held if the constitutional term of the an assembly expires within 120 days or less. But the by-polls scheduled before the said 120 days but postponed on any inevitable pretext could be held later,” he said.

The ex-ECP chief said that the election commission should have arranged the by-polls before Muharram. “Every year, the by-polls scheduled in the first ten days of Muharram are postponed. The electoral body should have learned from previous blunders, at least. The polls could have been conveniently conducted before 1st Muharram that was on November 16. What was the point in holding by-polls on November 17? These stupid decisions really question the ECP’s credibility. Its bosses need to stop committing follies on habitual basis,” he deplored.

Earlier on October 5, the electoral body had announced holding by-polls on November 17 in eight constituencies that had fallen vacant due to the disqualification of dual-national legislators in consequence of Supreme Court’s September 20 judgement.

Two vacant seats are already filled. The details of the remaining six seats are: NA-107 Gujrat IV, NA-162 Sahiwal-III, PP-26 Jhelum-III, PP-92 Gujranwala-II, PP-122, Sialkot-II and PS-21 Naushero Feroze-III. The candidates respectively disqualified from these seats are: Muhammad Jamil Malik from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Chaudhry Nadeem Khadim from PML-N, Dr Ashraf Chohan from PML-N, Chaudhry Akhlaq from PML-N and Dr Ahmed Ali Shah from PPP

The NA-245-Karachi VII seat has already been filled due to the unopposed election of Rehan Hashmi from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) last month. The MQM’s Farhat Khan was disqualified from this seat. The PP-144 seat had got vacated due to the disqualification of PML-N’s Waseem Qadir. Qadir proved not being a dual-national in the court following which the Apex Court reinstated his Punjab Assembly’s membership.

On September 20, the SC had convicted 12 dual-national lawmakers eleven of whom were disqualified immediately. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the only Senator in the convicted lot, is to be disqualified through a reference.

The PPP’s Farahnaz Isphahani and MQM’s Nadia Gabol were disqualified from National and Sindh Assembly seats for having dual-nationality. Munira Shakir and Rifat Khan have filled the women-reserved vacant seats to respectively replace their party colleagues. A Punjab Assembly’s women-reserved seat vacated on account of the disqualification of Amna Buttar from PPP in dual-nationality case has not been filled since Buttar has filed a review petition against her disqualification and the case is pending in the SC.