KP, Punjab elections: Who is to blame for this constitutional quagmire?

It just so happens that President Alvi, while ensuring his party’s demand, is helping the people get closer to choose their elected representatives as per their social contract.
Published February 20, 2023

We must start with how we got here. It is because the governors have been clearly avoiding their constitutional duty, which requires them to announce an election date within 90 days under Article 105, on a comical part-reading of the Constitution.

This is where they attempt to hoodwink the people and deny them their right to choose their lawmakers by arguing that the governor is only mandated to give a date for elections where he has acted upon the chief minister’s advice to dissolve the assembly.

The reasoning attempted here is that the governor did not do his constitutional duty, and did not act on the CM’s advice and the assemblies were simply dissolved by default. The governor and their federal government allies are now trying to say that they failed the Constitution once, and hence should be allowed to fail it a second time, whilst in the middle, they have hurriedly put in a caretaker setup according to the Constitution, which they have ignored both the other ends of.

The LHC’s directives

This part-reading has been dismissed by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in a comprehensive decision, which makes clear the independent constitutional duty of the Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) to hold elections within 90 days, regardless of whether the governor announces a date or not. The LHC has stated that elections must be held — the only thing to be decided is who will set the date.

The LHC then ordered the ECP to do its core job of ensuring a proper electoral process and give a date of elections where none has been offered by the governor as it falls in the penumbra of their actual powers. Meaning that the ECP is constitutionally mandated to do something major, such as hold an election within 90 days of an assembly’s dissolution. It can also do what is necessary to lead to that event, such as announcing the election date.

The ECP then started to drag its feet, ostensibly because it is part of our new hybrid government’s alliance with the old unelected half of the hybrid project. It felt that it could not act where it should and appealed the LHC decision on the premise that it is being asked to violate its mandate.

It is appealing a technicality of whether it can make an announcement of a date to avoid its existential duty which is the holding of elections. This is bureaucratic sludge at its stickiest. And obviously it comes from the audacity that can only belong to those who are not answerable to the people.

Enter the President

Into this collusive quagmire has now jumped the head cheerleader of the old hybrid setup — President Arif Alvi.

Because governors are extensions of his sovereign representation of the state which he heads, he has invoked his power to announce the date of general elections — under the Elections Act of 2017 — under to announce an election date in a province where everyone is dragging their feet.

Here, the president is eschewing technicality for the bigger picture — necessity of elections within constitutional time. He is doing so technically outside of his own scope of power, but arguably within its penumbra. His office and the offices of the governor are an unnecessary surplus, reduced to pomp and show, a billion-rupee post office that pretends to enjoy power. He has simply done the job of the regional post office from the head office.

Who will you hold more at fault? The ECP for trying to hide behind a technical comedy caused by the governors misreading a constitutional imperative? Or a president who is trying to do ‘the right thing’ because it happens to be what the political party he is supposed to be impartial towards wants him to do?

No one here is acting with good intentions. This is the same president who made an ordinance factory out of the presidency and seemingly was a willing pawn in the reference against Qazi Faez Isa.

It just so happens, however, that President Alvi, while ensuring his party’s demand, is helping the people get closer to choosing their elected representatives — as per their social contract.