KARACHI: President Arif Alvi’s move to set a date for Punjab and Khyber Pakht­unkhwa elections has drawn sharp criticism from his political opponents, who have accused him of acting like a PTI worker, though at least one legal expert has suggested that Mr Alvi was “well within his rights” to announce the poll dates.

On Monday, hours after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reaffirmed its decision not to consult the president on the matter, Mr Alvi went solo and announced April 9 as the election date for both provincial assemblies.

In a letter written to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, President Alvi said the date had been announced under Section 57(1) of the Elections Act. He asked the ECP to issue the election schedule according to Section 57(2) of the Act.

Describing Mr Alvi’s announcement as unconstitutional and illegal, Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said the president had violated Section 57(1) “in a hurry” because it allowed the president to announce a date for general elections, and that too after consultation with the ECP.

“According to the Constitution, provincial elections should be announced by the governor of the province after consultation with the Election Commission, not by the president. President Arif Alvi is flouting the Constitution and law to appease Imran Khan. The president should respect his position and powers,” the PPP leader tweeted.

Another PPP leader, Qamar Zaman Kaira, who is the prime minister’s adviser on Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, said elections should be held according to the Constitution, but the date given by the president should not be accepted in any case.

JUI-F submits condemnation motion in both houses of parliament

“The president has obeyed the orders of his party [PTI’s] leadership just as Qasim Suri did,” Mr Kaira said, referring to former National Assembly deputy speaker, who last year dismissed a no-confidence that sought to oust PTI Chairman Imran Khan as PM.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the president had acted like “a king and a PTI worker” to allegedly violate the Constitution and interfere with the powers of the governors and the Election Commission. In a tweet, he said Mr Alvi’s move was misconduct and warranted action by the ECP.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah accused President Alvi of using the office of the head of state for conspiracies.

In a Twitter post, he asked Mr Alvi to stay within the limits of the Constitution and not use his office for blackmail. “The president has nothing to do with giving the date of the election … the president cannot force the Election Commission to give illegal and unconstitutional orders,” he said.

Azam Nazeer Tarar, the federal minister of law and justice, accused the president of pressuring an independent constitutional body, ECP, “on the wish of your leader [Imran Khan]”. Mr Tarar added, “You are the president and not a worker.”

Advocate Salahuddin Ahmed noted that the president must act as per the advice of the prime minister except in specific cases where Constitution expressly permitted him to act alone. However, “power to announce elections is not such a case”, he tweeted.

Besides, he said, one difficulty was that it was unclear whether elections of one or two provinces could be classified as “general elections”.

Senior Supreme Court advocate Salman Akram Raja said Section 57 of the Elections Act was a “problematic provision”, adding that a court might even strike it down. “While it exists as a part of the law of the land, it has to be interpreted and acted upon,” he tweeted.

However, Barrister Mohammad Ahmad Pansota said Dr Alvi exercised his power under Section 57 of the Election Act, 2017, and “he is well within his rights to announce” election dates.

Condemnation motion

Meanwhile, JUI-F legislators have submitted a condemnation motion in both houses of the parliament against President Alvi.

The motion submitted in the National Assembly by Aliya Kamran calls upon the president to step down as “he has violated the Constitution through this announcement” of poll dates.

A similar resolution submitted in the upper house by Senator Kamran Murtaza also maintained that the president did not have the authority to make such a decision regarding general elections.

“Under the constitution, the President of Pakistan is not empowered to take such a decision and hence it is tantamount to violation of the Constitution,” the resolution said.

“This house urges the President of Pakistan to take back his announcement of holding the general elections for Punjab and KP assemblies,” it said.

‘Biased court verdicts’

Separately, Mr Kaira of the PPP lamented the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) “favourable treatment” of former prime minister Imran Khan, insisting that the courts “are losing their respect among the masses”.

“The court waited for five days for a court deserter. The judges [of the LHC bench] offered opportunity after opportunity in a discriminatory treatment favouring Imran Khan unlike any other accused in any case,” Mr Kaira said while speaking at a press conference at Governor House in Lahore on Tuesday.

Cautioning the judiciary that such discriminatory policies could cost its image dearly, he said that a court of law could win respect through its verdicts and not through fear of contempt of court.

“The judges should give decisions and not comment. The courts are losing their respect because of their biased verdicts and all will have to join hands to put a stop to it.”

Kalbe Ali in Islamabad and Amjad Mehmood in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 22th, 2023

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