ISLAMABAD: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (Retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq Wednesday said that the upcoming general elections would be held on February 18, 2008 as situation was not conducive for holding the polls on time. Addressing a news conference here, Qazi Farooq said that the decision was taken after thoroughly reviewing the current scenario across Pakistan and analyzing all aspects in the three days meeting of the Election Commission. He expressed deep sorrow and concern over the tragic death of former Prime Minister and PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and said that Pakistan lost a great leader of international caliber. He said that Bhutto’s demise affected every walk of life including the upcoming polls, scheduled to take place on January 8.
He said that these elections would now be held on February 18, 2008 as most ECP offices in Sindh were set on fire. At least 11 district offices were completely destroyed in the Sindh Province, he said. These districts include Naushero Feroze, Badin, Dadu, Ghotki Jackobabad, Jamshoro, Sukkar, Thatta, Kashmore and Kambar Shahdadkot. The CEC said that many of its offices were set on fire during riots that broke out after Benazir Bhutto’s tragic death. He further said that voter lists were destroyed, and other election preparations were affected. According to the Commission, the offices of ECP and ballot boxes and voting scanners present there were torched in 11 districts of Sindh. In these areas, the training work of polling staff is affected as well, he added.
He said that the Chief Secretary Sindh, while requesting for delay in the polls, pointed out that the law and order situation in the province was precarious. Offices of DCOs, DPOs, District Returning Officers and Returning Officers were damaged and the communication system has almost collapsed. He said that political agent and district returning officer from Kurram Agency also apprised the Commission in his letter that circumstances are not conducive for holding of the elections there.
He said that due to riots throughout the country, the pre-poll work and the printing of ballot papers has stop at three printing presses, two in Karachi and one in Lahore. In such circumstances, logistic process of ballot papers along with other election material which was scheduled to commence from Wednesday, January 2 has become impossible, he added.
Qazi Farooq said that Chief Secretaries and Provisional Election Commissioners of all the four provinces have also reported that due to the current law and order situation, it is not possible to hold elections on January 8. He said the election would now take place after the holy month of Muharram. He said that Muharram-ul-Haram is likely to commence from January 10 and there will be full-fledged commitment of law enforcement agencies towards maintaining peace and tranquility of the holy month. They will, therefore, be not available for performing election duties.
The Chief Election Commissioner appealed to the political leaders to accept the new date of polls in the larger national interest and fully participate in the election. Meanwhile, the Election Commission has issued a formal notification of the new date of the polls. It says that under Article-254 of the Constitution, when any act or thing is required to be done within a particular period and is not done during that period, the doing of the act or thing shall not be invalid or otherwise ineffective by reason only that it was not done within that period.