• Accuses ECP and two governors of not fulfilling their constitutional duties
• Asks watchdog to announce election schedule
• Govt condemns unilateral move as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’
ISLAMABAD: In a controversial move that was condemned by the government as “unconstitutional and illegal”, President Dr Arif Alvi on Monday fixed April 9 as the date for elections to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The development came hours after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reaffirmed its decision not to consult the president on dates for elections to the two provincial assemblies.
In a letter written to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, President Alvi said the date has been announced under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act. He asked the ECP to issue the election schedule in accordance with Section 57(2) of the Act.
The president said that he was under oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution under Article 42 read with the third schedule of the Constitution.
According to the president, in the absence of restraining order from any of the judicial fora, there was no impediment in invoking the authority vested in him under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act, 2017, empowering him to “announce the date or dates of the general elections after consultation with the commission”. Therefore, he added, 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.
Dr Alvi said the Punjab and KP governors were not performing their constitutional duties for appointing a date and claimed that the Election Commission was also not fulfilling its constitutional obligations with regard to the date of the election. “Both the constitutional offices are placing the ball in each other’s court, similar to the old Urdu proverb ‘pehle aap, nahin pehle aap’ (after you) thus, resulting in delay and creating a serious danger that constitutional provisions may be violated,” he said.
The president pointed out that the Election Commission had already indicated the possible dates of elections in its various communications to the constitutional functionaries showing its responsibility of holding the elections within ninety days.
In reference to his two letters to the ECP to reach a date for elections in the two provinces, the president stated that he had initiated a “serious consultation process” with the commission, but the ECP refused to participate in a meeting on the subject matter.
He said that in the exercise of powers conferred upon him under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act, 2017, he was announcing the date of April 9 for elections. He was of the view that the ECP was obliged under the law to announce the election schedule.
‘Unilateral’ move condemned
Mr Alvi came under fire in the National Assembly for taking such an “unconstitutional” step.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the announcement of dates for the provincial assembly elections amounted to the abrogation of the Constitution.
He said the president had no role in announcing dates for general elections to the provincial assemblies. The minister added that President Alvi was acting as a PTI worker, bringing disrespect to his office.
Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said the talks of constitutionalism do not suit President Arif Alvi who acts as a “personal employee of the PTI chief”.
The minister said that Article 48 (5) of the Constitution only allows the president to announce a date for the election after the dissolution of the National Assembly by him.
It merits mention here that Article 48 (5) says, “Where the president dissolves the National Assembly, notwithstanding anything contained in clause (1), he shall appoint a date, not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the Assembly and appoint a caretaker cabinet.”
The minister said that Article 105 (3) allows the governor to announce the date in the province in case he had dissolved the provincial assembly. The Punjab Assembly, however, was not dissolved by the governor, he added. This particular matter related to the governor is sub judice and the court will make a decision regarding the issue. He said the matter was pending before the Lahore High Court and the president had meddled in the affairs of the judiciary. “He has no power either to make laws or to interpret them,” he remarked.
MNA Mohsin Dawar noted that violation of the Constitution becomes a norm since no action is being taken against the violators. He said two former prime ministers accused the military officers of intervention in government affairs. “Will they ever be interrogated ever,” he questioned. Chaudhry Birjees Tahir said a motion to condemn the president should be tabled in the house.
Hours before the president’s move stirred a simmering controversy, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani regretted that Constitution has been reduced to a green book with no soul by all the stakeholders.
In a statement, the PPP leader said the president had no role in the announcement of the polls’ date for the provincial assembly.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said the move to announce elections was “unconstitutional and illegal” and added that the president’s action was in violation of Section 57 (1) as well since he could only announce a date for elections after consultations with the ECP.
Mr Rabbani also recalled “unconstitutional” actions of the president and said Mr Alvi accepted the advice of a prime minister under disqualification of Article 95 and dissolved the National Assembly, refused to give oath to a prime minister and his cabinet, refused to sign on the advice of the prime minister of the removal of the Punjab governor and failed to nominate a person to administer oath to the Punjab chief minister as per instructions of the Lahore High Court;
He also said Dr Alvi filed references in the Supreme Court under Article 209 against sitting judges of the superior courts, tried to appoint two members of the Election Commission in contravention of the Constitution, and promulgated an ordinance without application of mind in contravention of Article 89(1).
“This is just the tip of the iceberg of the transgressed steps taken by the president”, he said.Eminent lawyer Muhammad Akram Sheikh said the President had no overall superintending authority to interfere in the working of other constitutional organs of the federation.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2023