ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday told President Arif Alvi in so many words that he has no role in the announcement of dates for general elections to provincial assemblies and the commission is aware of its constitutional obligation in this regard.

“According to Article 48(5) of the Constitution, where the National Assem­bly is dissolved by the President, he shall appoint a date for election and appoint a caretaker cabinet in accordance with the provision of Article 224 or as the case may be under Article 224-A. Similarly where a governor of a province dissolves a provincial assembly under Article 105(3)(a), he shall appoint a date for general elections to the assembly and shall appoint a caretaker cabinet,” Chief Election Commis­sioner Sikandar Sultan Raja wrote to President Alvi in response to his letter.

The CEC’s letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn, draws president’s attention to the commission’s constitutional obligation to organise and conduct elections under Article 218(3).

The letter also objects to the language used by the president, as it says: “The office of president is the highest constitutional body and president is head of the state whereas all other constitutional and legal bodies are under constitutional obligation to offer utmost respect for the President office. We are sure that it is impartial and expect parental guidance from this prestigious office towards other constitutional bodies and expect that there will be better choice of words while addressing such other constitutional institutions.”

CEC objects to choice of words in president’s letter

The ECP’s response comes 10 days after the president’s letter to it, and a day after Mr Alvi wrote another letter — this time inviting CEC for an urgent meeting on Feb 20 regarding consultations on date of general elections. In his letter to the CEC, the president had expressed displeasure over the “apathy and inaction” on the part of the commission that did not respond to his earlier letter.

Mr Alvi stated he had waited anxiously that the ECP would realise its constitutional duties to proceed and act accordingly, but was extremely dismayed by the commission’s “poignant” approach on this important matter.

The CEC in his letter says the commission is trying its level best to fulfil its constitutional duties without any pressure or fear.

It mentions that provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) had been dissolved on Jan 14 and Jan 18, respectively, after which it approached governors of both provinces asking them to announce dates for general elections, and reminders were also sent to them on Jan 29. It refers to the petitions filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and three others in the Lahore High Court, which directed the ECP on Feb 10 to hold a consultative meeting with the Punjab governor and fix a date for the polls.

On Feb 14, it says, the election commission secretary, special secretary and director general (law) held a meeting with the Punjab governor who regretted to announce poll date and expressed his intension to approach the legal forum.

“The Election Commission is fully cognisant of its constitutional obligations to organise and conduct the election and has taken all necessary steps in this regard. It will not be out of place to mention here that the role of the hon’ble president and the governor of a province is clearly mentioned in Article 48(5) and 105(3) of the Constitution, respectively.”

It stresses that the Constitution does not empower the Commission to fix a date for general election to an assembly in case of dissolution. It says the Commission was mandated to organise and conduct the election to Senate of Pakistan, by-elections of the Assemblies under Section 102 and Senate without any consultation. “In this regard, it has fulfilled its obligations as so many by-elections to the Senate, National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies have been held well within time and the Commission did not hesitate to announce the date of such elections. The latest example is the immediate announcement of schedule of elections on seats of National Assembly from where MNAs have resigned,” it says.

The CEC said had the framers of the Constitution intention to confer powers on the commission to announce poll date in case of dissolution of an assembly, it would have been clearly mentioned the same in Article 48, 58, 105 or 112 of the Constitution. “At the same time the Elections Act, 2017 also does not confer powers on the commission to announce a poll date except in Senate elections and all by-elections.

He said the Lahore High Court while interpreting different provisions of the Constitution has held that the commission shall consult the governor for appointment of the poll date. The Election Commission after holding meeting with the Punjab governor decided to file a civil miscellaneous application in the Lahore High Court seeking further guidance which has been objected to by the office of LHC registrar on the ground that the matter stands decided and the civil miscellaneous application is not maintainable.

The commission has also challenged the LHC judgement on the ground that the Constitution and law does not provide any consultation by the commission with the governor.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2023

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