• Verdict notes election watchdog ultimate authority to ensure polls within 90 days • Commission takes up president’s letter to announce dates for Punjab, KP

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Friday ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to immediately announce the date of elections to the Punjab Assembly after consultation with the governor, in his capacity as the constitutional head of the province, to ensure that polls were held not later than 90 days as per the mandate of the Constitution.

Justice Jawad Hassan passed the order allowing petitions of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and others, seeking directions for the governor and ECP to immediately announce a date for general elections in the province, since the assembly had been dissolved.

The judge had reserved his verdict after hearing final arguments from all sides just before noon on Friday, and announced it after 9pm.

In the 16-page judgement, Justice Hassan wrote that Article 105 of the Constitution makes it quite clear that it covers two eventualities — the first eventuality deals with the situation where on the advice of the chief minister, the governor exercises his constitutional power to dissolve the assembly while second eventuality deals with a situation where on such advice by the chief minister, he (governor) abstains from exercising his constitutional powers and the assembly stands dissolved by the operation of the law.

• Verdict notes election watchdog ultimate authority to ensure polls within 90 days • Commission takes up president’s letter to announce dates for Punjab, KP

Justice Hassan observed the superior courts have also held that the ECP is the apex, independent and neutral constitutional authority to hold, organise and conduct elections. The judge says Article 224(2), read with Articles 105 and 112, does not specifically mention the authority to declare election date in a provincial assembly if it stands dissolved by operation of law.

However, he ruled that in the light of jurisprudence developed in the judgements, it can safely be concluded that the ECP being an independent and neutral constitutional authority is the ultimate authority to ensure compliance of Article 224(2) under the doctrine of penumbra.

During the Friday’s hearing, Advocate Shezada Mazhar on behalf of the ECP objected to the maintainability of the petitions. He also argued that under the Constitution and the Election Act, 2017 there was no provision which required the ECP to give the date of an election.

The previous day, Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman told the court that he was not supposed to announce a date for the election as he had not dissolved the provincial assembly on the chief minister’s advice. Senator Barrister Syed Ali Zafar and Advocate Azhar Siddique had represented the petitioners.

ECP takes stock

Also on Friday, the ECP considered President Arif Alvi’s letter to the chief election commissioner asking the commission to immediately announce dates for general elections to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja deliberated constitutional and legal implications of the letter and its responsibilities. ECP members, secretary and other senior officers also attended the meeting.

 “The meeting considered the letter sent by the president dated  February 8, 2023, its constitutional and legal implications and the  constitutional and legal responsibilities of the Election Commission  were also considered in detail,” a brief statement issued by the  commission’s Media Coordination and  Outreach Wing, says.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2023

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