The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced on Thursday that general elections will be held in the country in the last week of January 2024 – well beyond the 90-day limit given in the Constitution. The ECP reviewed the progress of the delimitation process on Thursday and decided that the preliminary list of constituencies will be published on September 27, 2023. After hearing the objections and suggestions on the preliminary lists of constituencies, the final list of constituencies will be published on November 30. Subsequently, a 54-day period will be given for the election program, and after that polls will be held in the last week of January 2024. Earlier, the ECP had announced that it would be reducing the time required to complete the delimitation of constituencies and that its publication would now be final by Nov 30 instead of December 14 as earlier announced. The purpose of reducing the duration of delimiting constituencies was to ensure holding elections as soon as possible. A previous statement of the ECP had said that under the purview of the revised date for the finalisation of constituencies “the election schedule will also be announced”. Just days after the statement, the ECP has now announced that polls will be held in new year’s first month. Though ECP has announced holding elections in the last week of January, it hasn’t specifically announced the date for elections, raising doubts if this would be the final decision. Just like electoral body reduced the date for the delimitation exercise, it is still conjectured that the polls supervisory body can reduce or extend the time for polls in the country. The statement was issued after the ECP summoned an emergency meeting following discussions with different stakeholders. The election body had of late conducted back-to-back meetings with officials of different political parties to take into stock their position regarding elections and delimitation, among other things. Former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif dissolved the National Assembly on August 9, three days ahead of its mandated period. The 90-day limit for the ECP to hold elections under the Constitution ends on Nov 9. However, on August 17, the election supervisor announced that it would revamp all the national and provincial assemblies’ constituencies in light of the digital census within 120 days. President Dr Arif Alvi, political parties, lawyers, think tanks and other stakeholders have lately been debating over whether the polls should be held within 90 days, or the ECP should delay polls until the completion of the delimitation process. The debate began after the previous coalition government comprising Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), PPP and several other parties notified census results in a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) mere days before it dissolved the National Assembly. The decision allowed ECP to go for a delimitation exercise before announcing the polls’ date. As uncertainty abounds about the next general elections, President Alvi wrote to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and invited him for a meeting to discuss fixing the poll date within the 90-day constitutional deadline ending in early November. The CEC, however, refused the invitation. President Alvi then wrote to the ECP and suggested that polls should be held across the country no later than November 6, the 89th day since the dissolution of the National Assembly. However, the ECP has moved ahead at its own pace and announced to hold general elections in the last week of January. Major political parties in the former ruling alliance welcomed the development, hoping that it would remove the apprehensions regarding the political situation of the country. Reacting to the development, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) viewed it as positive while Awami National Party (ANP) called for a specific date, however, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) decided to challenge the move in court. Following the announcement of the poll date, the Imran Khan-led party has decided to challenge the Election Commission’s decision to conduct elections in the last week of January. Speaking to a private news channel, PTI’s core committee member Niazullah Niazi said that the Constitution calls for elections within 90 days and exceeding the period is unlawful. “We will challenge the Election Commission’s decision. The way the ECP is working it does not look like a constitutional institution,” Niazi said, adding that President Arif Alvi has the authority to announce a date for polls. Senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said that his party welcomed the decision by the ECP as it has ended the uncertainty about the delimitation. “Everyone knew from the first day that the election commission was bound to conduct delimitation after the census,” said Iqbal. Iqbal further said that uncertainty should end after the announcement of polls, adding that all the parties should start preparations now. “It is important that the elections are held peacefully and a stable government is formed that takes the country out of the economic crisis,” the former planning minister said. He added that any party that comes into power should take all the parties on the same page and work on the economic agenda with consensus. Iqbal said that the ECP announced the election schedule after the completion of the delimitation. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira, in a carefully worded response, said that he could give his own opinion on the matter but viewed the development as “positive”. Kaira said he is not in a position to share his party’s version which had been demanding the ECP to announce the election schedule as per the Constitution. Meanwhile, the ANP – a member of the former ruling alliance – urged the poll organising authority to fix a date for the election. When asked to comment on the ECP announcement, senior ANP leader Zahid Khan said it is their demand that elections be held in 90 days and the party raised the same issue when they met Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja. He, however, mentioned that the electoral body had shared its obligations and expressed the inability to hold polls in 90 days.