The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday issued notices to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman on a PTI petition seeking the announcement of a date for elections in the province.
The PTI had on Friday approached the LHC, seeking a direction to the Punjab governor to immediately announce the date of a general election in the province since the assembly had been dissolved.
The petition, filed through PTI General Secretary Asad Umar, stated that more than 10 days had passed since the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly but the respondent [Governor Rehman] had failed to fulfil his constitutional duty of announcing an election date.
At the outset of the hearing today, Justice Jawad Hassan noted that a petition had been received seeking direction to the governor for an announcement of polls in the province.
“The governor did not sign the notification for the dissolution of the assembly after which the legislature stood automatically dissolved. This means that elections should be held within 90 days,” he observed.
The judge asked the petitioner [PTI] to make ECP a respondent in the case. The PTI counsel abided by the court’s directives.
“Did you write to the governor for the announcement of the date for the election,” Justice Hassan asked the PTI lawyer.
The latter responded that the governor was supposed to fulfil his responsibility under the Constitution.
At that, the judge noted: “We are here for democracy and will strive for it.”
He further said the authority for announcing the election date had to be determined. “Have you filed a petition seeking a date for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa election?” he asked.
In his response, Umar said that his party would approach the Peshawar High Court tomorrow for the matter.
For his part, Assistant Attorney General Nasir Ghumman informed the court that the federal government did not represent the governor [in the petition], as “it is a separate body.”
Here, the court expressed its displeasure at the official, asking “you have come to the court “ill-prepared”.
“Why is the behaviour of a government counsel so non-serious?” the judge questioned, observing that the matter pertained to the people of the province and not the PTI.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the court issued notices to the respondents — ECP and Punjab governor — and adjourned the hearing till Feb 3.
Later, speaking to the media outside the court, Asad Umar said that today’s proceedings had ensured that elections [in the province] will be held within 90 days.
He claimed the country was divided into two parts at the moment. “One segment stands with Imran Khan and democracy while the other is hell-bent on creating anarchy in the country.”
The petition filed by the PTI argued that a plain reading of the relevant provisions of the Constitution shows that the elections have to be held within the stipulated period of 90 days from the date of the assembly’s dissolution.
It said that the respondent’s [ECP and Punjab governor] inaction to do the needful “is unlawful and unconstitutional as Article 105 (3)(1)(a) of the Constitution reads where an assembly is dissolved by the governor, he shall announce a date for the holding of the general election, not later than 90 days from such dissolution”.
The application contended that the governor was duty-bound to announce the election date so as to “further the constitutional command” to ensure the conduct of the polls in an honest, just and fair manner.
It argued that the governor’s failure to discharge his duty was “undermining and jeopardising the whole scheme of the Constitution regarding the conduct of the free and fair elections following the dissolution of an assembly”.
The petition further noted that the election date was also required immediately so that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could organise and conduct the poll according to Article 218(3) of the Constitution and make arrangements necessary for a free and fair election.
The PTI’s petition said the entire province of Punjab was waiting for the date of the fresh election as people wanted to know when there will be a return to a representative government. However, it argued, the respondent’s failure was frustrating the campaign plans of the candidates and their voters as well.
It argued that the “governor is depriving the petitioner (PTI) of its fundamental right, guaranteed under Article 17 of the Constitution, to contest and participate in an election”.
“Unless the date of the election is announced, the exercise of this right will be frustrated,” the petition added.
It further submitted that the election date for the assembly could not be left open as it would not only be in violation of the Constitution and amounts to its subversion, but it would also be against the basic principles of democracy and contrary to the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan.
The petition pleaded that the election date was to be announced by the respondent immediately, or if so deemed fit by an appropriate direction by the court to the president of Pakistan or the ECP, as the case may be.