• Watchdog explains matter about poll dates is sub judice
• President says ‘excuses’ being made to delay elections

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Sunday declined a meeting with President Dr Arif Alvi for consultations on dates for elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assemblies, saying the matter was sub judice.

As the matter is pending before various judicial forums, the chief election commissioner could not meet the president, a letter by the ECP said, adding that a final decision regarding the consultation with the president will be taken by the commission in its meeting on Monday (today).

A letter sent to the president’s secretary with the signatures of ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan said that letter of President Alvi inviting CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja for an urgent meeting was placed before the commission for consideration.

“The commission after deliberation has directed the undersigned to convey that the commission is well aware of its constitutional and legal obligations and has already conveyed its response to the earlier letter, dated February 8, 2023 explaining the complete background,” the letter read.

It pointed out that Article 105, read with Article 112 of the Constitution, provides the procedure for announcement of poll date in case of dissolution of the provincial assemblies.

The letter added that the commission, after dissolution of the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had approached the governors of the two provinces for announcing the date as they had not done so while dissolving the legislatures.

It also mentions that in compliance with the judgement of the Lahore High Court (LHC) dated February 10, the commission held a consultative meeting with the Punjab governor on February 14 to have deliberations on the date for polls. The governor, however, decided to use legal options instead of giving the date.

According to the letter, the commission has also sought further guidance from the LHC, by filing an application and has also challenged the judgement through an intra-court appeal on the ground that the process of consultation with the governor was not provided in the Constitution.

Similarly, three writ petitions have been filed in the Peshawar High Court (PHC), seeking directions for appointing a date for holding general elections to the provincial assembly. It stressed that the Constitution does not empower the Election Commission to appoint the election date in case of dissolution of a provincial assembly by the governor or due to afflux of time as provided in Article 112(1).

“For the subject matter at hand, due to the reasons stated above and matter being sub judice at various judicial fora, regrettably the commission may not be able to enter into a process of consultation with the office of the president,” the letter read.

Alvi gives reasons

In an interview on Sunday, President Alvi said he had invited the CEC for consultation on elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because excuses were being made instead of announcements of the date for elections. I had to write a letter because of these excuses, he elaborated.

President Alvi said instead of finding “holes in the Constitution”, it should be respected. “Don’t think about how the provisions of the Constitution should be kept aside for the deadlock in the election,” he said, adding that it seemed like there would be a penalty for giving the election date.

On the ECP’s assertion that only governors could announce dates for elections, the president said: “I cannot take any action against the governors on the issue of delay in the election.” Talking about the possible arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, the president said the situation in the country would worsen with the arrest.

In his recent letter to the CEC, the president said since his letter dated February 8, some substantial developments had taken place. He had expressed displeasure over the apathy and inaction on the part of the commission that did not respond to his earlier letter.

The president stated that 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 to this important matter.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2023

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