President Dr Arif Alvi on Monday unilaterally announced April 9 as the date for holding general elections for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, according to a press release issued by the President’s Secretariat’s Press Wing.
The elections are to take place in both provinces after previous PTI governments had dissolved their assemblies before the expiry of their five-year mandated term on the orders of party chairman Imran Khan.
The president’s unilateral announcement of the election date came after his invitation for consultations on dates for elections was turned down by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Quoting a letter sent by President Alvi to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja, the statement said the president had made the decision under Section 57(1) (notification of election programme) of the Elections Act, 2017 and was asking the CEC to issue the election programme under Section 57(2) of the same Act.
Saying he was “under oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” under its Article 42 (oath of president), he defended his announcement by adding that there was “no impediment in invoking the power and authority vested in him” as there was “no restraining order from any of the judicial fora”.
He said he had “felt it necessary to perform his constitutional and statutory duty to announce the date of elections to avoid the infringement and breach of the Constitution and law i.e. holding of elections not later than ninety days”.
President Alvi criticised Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman and KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali for “not performing their constitutional duties for appointing a date not later than ninety days from the date of dissolution” of the provincial assemblies.
He also lambasted the ECP for “not fulfilling its constitutional obligation for holding polls” of the assemblies concerned.
Referring to an Urdu proverb, “Pehlay aap. Nahi, pehlay aap” [You first. No, you first], he said that “both the constitutional offices are placing the ball in each other’s court […] thus, resulting in delay and creating a serious danger that constitutional provisions may be violated”.
President Alvi pointed out that the ECP had already indicated the possible dates for the elections in its various communications to the constitutional functionaries showing its own responsibility of holding the elections within ninety days.
Referring to the recent back-and-forth communications between the ECP and himself, he said he had initiated a “serious consultation process” with the ECP for the date announcement but the electoral body had replied that the commission “could not participate in a meeting on the subject matter” with the president.
Ministers criticise ‘unconstitutional’ move
Addressing the development during today’s National Assembly session, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif indicated that Alvi violated the Constitution by announcing elections.
He said the president crossed his constitutional limits. “What the president has done is against the law and Constitution,” Asif added.
The defence minister said the government reserves its right to act against “unconstitutional measures”.
He also alleged that President Alvi was “toeing his party’s line”.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the president could announce the date for the election of the National Assembly but not for the provincial assemblies after their dissolution.
“He had no constitutional jurisdiction to announce the date for the elections of Punjab and KP assemblies and thus he has violated the Constitution,” the law minister said in his NA speech.
Tarar said those talking about upholding the Constitution had “themselves violated it in the past”. “The NA was dissolved within three minutes by the president after the ruling of the former deputy speaker, which was later set aside by the apex court,” he added.
He recalled that the president had even refused to administer the oath to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
‘ECP has the powers but governors, ECP shirked their duty’
Speaking to Dawn.com, legal expert Barrister Asad Rahim said that the correct authority for announcing a date for the polls is the governor under Article 105.
“In the event he (the governor) chooses not to dissolve the provincial assembly, then the ECP in consultation with the governor [should announce the election date] as recently affirmed by the Lahore High Court judgment by Justice Jawad Hassan. The Court has directed the ECP to announce the date after consultation; it did not mention the president,” he explained.
“The Election Act of 2017 is superseded by the Constitution, and was last applied when the president was announcing a date for general elections at the national level,” he added. “In any case, the president would still require consultation with the ECP before announcing a date of any kind.
“We nonetheless find ourselves here because the ECP and the governors have shirked their constitutional obligation, besides being in contempt of the Lahore High Court judgment by not completing the consultation process and announcing a date. This is gravely damaging our democracy.”
Additional input from the Associated Press of Pakistan.
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.