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Pakistan’s political parties welcome announcement of poll schedule

All major political parties of Pakistan, except the one led by Imran Khan, on Saturday welcomed the Supreme Court-prompted announcement of the schedule for the February 8 general elections, saying the apex court has foiled a “major conspiracy” to delay the polls and “saved democracy.”

Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, however, “continued to question the biases of bureaucrats to be appointed as poll officers,” according to Dawn newspaper. But the party said it wants “timely, free and fair polls.”

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced the election schedule late on Friday night after the Supreme Court suspended an order by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on the appointment of bureaucrats as Returning Officers (ROs).

While hearing a plea by the PTI, the LHC on Wednesday suspended ECP’s decision to appoint bureaucrats as Returning Officers (ROs) and district returning officers (DROs) for the February 8 elections, prompting it to approach the apex court.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif praised the Supreme Court as it “foiled PTI’s conspiracy against democracy and the Constitution.”

“The Supreme Court’s landmark decision to ensure Feb 8 polls will strengthen democracy and protect the Constitution.” he posted on X.

His post also alleged that “Imran Khan’s PTI did not want polls.”

Khan and a number of his party leaders have been jailed on multiple charges and have argued that there is no level playing field for their party to take part in the upcoming polls.

Observing that the SC verdict has removed “all hurdles” in timely elections, Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party Information Secretary Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan posted on X, “The Supreme Court has saved democracy and ensured the supremacy of the Constitution for which we are thankful for it.”

PML-N leader Ishaq Dar said holding polls was ECP’s sole responsibility as the circumstances and the Constitution demanded timely elections.

Aminul Haq of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) in Karachi welcomed the decision and said, it has put an end to the uncertainties and speculations surrounding general elections, the Dawn said, adding, “Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Punjab secretary general Hasan Murtaza also said a major conspiracy to delay polls had been foiled.”

The PTI had expressed its concerns and along with demanding that the ECP announce the polls schedule, also demanded allottting the ‘bat’ symbol back to Khan’s party.

However, its major concern remained the biases of bureaucrats being appointed as ROs and DROs. After the apex court’s verdict, PTI’s Punjab chapter posted on X: “A DC [deputy commissioner] which doesn’t allow PTI to hold a convention will now conduct elections.”

On Saturday, the official PTI handle posted on X: “InshAllah, the whole of Pakistan will stamp the answer to this fascism and oppression on February 8, 2024. #IWillVotePTI”

PTI’s handle also tweeted a video of its new chairman Barrister Gohar Khan in which he denied allegations by other parties and even the Supreme Court that the PTI wants to derail the February 8 general polls.

“It is only the Supreme Court that can tell why they said that we want to derail the democracy. We ourselves want the polls to be held in a free and fair manner. But we will continue with our point of contention about bureaucrats being appointed as ROs.”