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Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday revised election schedule for 16 seats in newly merged districts of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly where polls would now be held on July 20 instead of July 2. The decision was taken on the request of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government at a meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Sardar Muhammad Raza.

The provincial government had approached ECP with a request to delay the elections for up to 20 days on account of security threats and law and order situation in certain parts of erstwhile Fata. In the meeting that was attended by the top representatives of ECP, Interior Ministry, States and Frontier Regions, Home Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, security and law enforcement agencies, the ECP reviewed the provincial government's request before deciding to hold the elections on 16 provincial assembly seats on July 20.

Sources in ECP told Business Recorder that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government cited its concerns stemming from the recent terror incidents in North Waziristan to request the ECP to delay the elections. Reports have recently surfaced from North Waziristan suggesting that security forces have been attacked by miscreants in the area that resulted in the martyrdom of a few security personnel including the officers. Taking stock of the reports, the ECP entertained the provincial government's request and decided to delay the polls for over two weeks.

On May 6, the ECP had issued election schedule on 16 seats of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly for elections on July 2. The seats include PK-100 Bajaur-I, PK-101 Bajaur-II, PK-102 Bajaur-III, PK-103 Mohmand-I, PK-104 Mohmand-Il, PK-105 Khyber-I, PK-106 Khyber-II, PK-107 Khyber-III, PK-108 Kurram-I, PK-109 Kurram-II, PK-110 Orakzai, PK-111 North Waziristan-I, PK-112 North Waziristan-II, PK-113 South Waziristan-I, PK-114 South Waziristan-II, PK-114 South Waziristan-II and PK-115 Ex-Frontier Regions. ECP sources said only the election date has been revised from July 2 to July 20 whereas the rest of the election schedule issued on May 6 would remain unchanged.

According to this schedule, public notice for election on 16 seats was issued on May 07, 2019 by the returning officer. The date for filing of nomination papers with the returning officer by the candidates was May 11, 2019. The publication of names of the nominated candidates was May 12, 2019. The last date for scrutiny of nomination papers by the returning officer was May 18, 2019. Last date for filing of appeals against decisions of the returning officer rejecting/accepting the nomination papers was May 22, 2019. Last date for deciding of appeals by the appellate tribunal was May 27, 2019. Publication of revised list of candidates was May 28, 2019. Last date for withdrawal of candidature and publication of revised list of candidates was May 29, 2019.

Talking to Business Recorder, former secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad hailed ECP's decision not to delay the polls for a longer period. "In light of 25th Amendment, elections have to be held on the 16 seats of erstwhile FATA merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, latest by July 25, 2019, exactly one year into the general elections (held on July 25 last year). Constitutionally, the elections on 16 seats cannot be delayed beyond July 25, 2019."

In a landmark move, the 25th Amendment that allowed FATA's merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was passed by Pakistan's Parliament and subsequently by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on May 2018. The amendment allowed reduction of erstwhile FATA seats in National Assembly from 12 to 6 seats (to be applicable from next general elections) and creation of 16 seats of erstwhile FATA in KP Assembly (within one year of general elections).

However, in May 2019, the National Assembly passed the 26th Amendment Bill moved by Mohsin Dawar. The bill provides for increasing the seats of erstwhile FATA in National Assembly from 6 to 9 and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly from 16 to 20. The bill is yet to be passed by Senate and then by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly before it is signed into law by the President of Pakistan.

Kanwar Dilshad said unless the bill is passed by the Senate and the provincial assembly, it will have no legal effect. "The draft 26th Amendment seems far from becoming a law. Mohsin Dawar is in the custody of security agencies, and, in his absence, his bill, which is a private bill, cannot be presented in Senate. The ECP has to continue with the election process as envisaged in the 25th Amendment-to hold elections on 16 seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. And this has to be done latest by July 25."

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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