LAHORE: A “consultative meeting” between Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman and officials of the Election Commission on Tuesday failed to agree on a date for elections to the Punjab Assembly, as they decided to approach the Lahore High Court for “clarification and interpretation” of its ruling pertaining to immediate elections in Punjab.

The high court, which had asked ECP to consult the governor for the election date in the province, would be approached by the government after “consultations with legal and constitutional experts”.

A statement issued after the meeting by the governor’s office said: “Gov­ernor Rehman presided over a consultative meeting with the ECP team in the light of the LHC’s order here on Tuesday and concluded that some aspects of the consultative role of the governor in court’s decision req­uire clarification and interpretation, for which the court will be approached after consultation with legal and constitutional experts.

In a separate statement, the ECP said that the governor had not dissolved the provincial assembly so under the Constitution he was not authorised to give an election date. “Under this situation, the governor’s suggestion will not be binding on the ECP,” it declared and added the governor did not want to take “any extra-constitutional step”.

CEC summons meeting of electoral watchdog amid deadlock on elections in Punjab, KP

“As the LHC’s decision required clarification, we are opting for a legal course so that interpretation of the Constitution and law is made,” the ECP said and explained this was the reason no date for holding polls for the Punjab Assembly could be given forthwith.

On the other hand, the federal coalition government was quick to show intention regarding holding the polls in both Punjab and KP within 90 days after both houses had been dissolved about a month ago.

Federal cabinet member Malik Ahmad Khan said, “If provincial and general elections are to be allowed to be held separately, it will break the election cycle forever, with the new arrangement seeing the provincial assemblies influencing NA polls. How will there be fair and free elections this way as mandated in the Constitution?”

Mr Khan had already declared that since the Constitution was silent about pushing the elections beyond 90 days after the dissolution of an assembly the delay would not be considered unconstitutional. A good number of federal cabinet members have already maintained that ‘no separate’ polls would be held as these were not in the scheme of things of the incumbent government.

Similarly, a senior PML-N leader told Dawn the legal battle would continue but the polls in Punjab and KP would not be held within 90 days. “Forget the elections of both the provinces in 90 days. Elections of national and provincial assemblies will be held on the same day either after the federal coalition completes its term this August or maybe later.”

‘Delaying tactics’

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) reacted strongly to what it called ‘delaying tactics’ of the federal coalition to hold polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, saying the ECP and the governor did what they were expected to do – “flout the LHC decision and trample the Constitution”.

PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet: “As expected the governor and ECP wasted time in the meeting. They made mockery of the LHC’s order and the Constitution. They are taking the Constitution as a scrapbook as public opinion seems to hold no value in their eyes. If the people do not throng to the streets to lodge their protest over this Pakistan will become a colony.”

ECP meets today

Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja summoned a consultative meeting of the ECP on Wednesday in light of a deadlock on the issue of elections in Punjab and KP. The decision was taken following a meeting with Punjab Governor Baligjur Rahman which was held in Lahore.

In a related development, the Peshawar High Court has also sought a written reply from the electoral body and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor over the conduct of general election to the provincial assembly. The issues related to both elections to both provincial assemblies will be deliberated upon during the commission’s meeting.

It may be noted that the Punjab and KP Assemblies were dissolved by the PTI on January 14 and January 18, respectively.

Iftikhar A. Khan also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2023

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