Hours after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) wrote a letter to him suggesting possible poll dates, President Dr Arif Alvi announced on Friday that elections in Punjab will be held on April 30.
“The president announced the date [for elections in Punjab] after considering dates proposed by the Election Commission of Pakistan. ECP had proposed a poll date between April 30 and May 7, 2023, for holding general elections of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab, and had further suggested holding elections preferably on Sunday,” a statement released by the President’s Secretariat said.
Earlier today, the electoral body had written a letter to the president proposing dates between April 30 and May 7 for the elections.
“The Election Commission has sent a letter to the president in light of the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in which the dates for holding the elections in Punjab have been suggested between April 30 and May 7, 2023,” an ECP press release, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said.
It stated that the commission was prepared to fulfil its constitutional and legal duty once the date for elections was selected by the president.
The press release further said that the ECP has written a letter to the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stating that the electoral body was waiting for his response regarding the date for polls in the province.
The announcement comes two days after the Supreme Court ruled that the elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies should be held within the stipulated period of 90 days. It, however, allowed the ECP to propose a poll date that deviates from the 90-day deadline by the “barest minimum”, in case of any practical difficulty.
It also held that President Alvi and the KP governor will fix dates for Punjab and KP assemblies, respectively, in consultation with the ECP.
‘A victory for the Constitution’
In a video message on Twitter, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that his party has welcomed the electoral body’s announcement and called it a “step in the right direction”.
“We believe that the ECP took the right step in light of the SC’s order,” he said, elaborating that the apex court had said in its Wednesday’s order that the president and ECP could go beyond the 90-day period of holding polls but it had also used the word “bare minimum”.
“We congratulate the public. This is a victory for the PTI, the nation and the Constitution.”
Punjab, KP election limbo
In a mammoth public gathering in November last year, former prime minister Imran Khan had announced that his party would disassociate itself from the “current corrupt political system” by quitting the two provincial assemblies where PTI was in power.
Despite several obstacles put up by the coalition government, the Punjab and KP assemblies were dissolved on Jan 14 and Jan 18, respectively. Under the law, the elections are to be held within 90 days after the dissolution of assemblies.
That means April 14 and April 17 were the deadlines for holding general elections to Punjab and KP assemblies, but the two governors instead of setting dates for elections after receiving the proposal from the ECP had advised the commission to consult stakeholders.
Chief secretaries and inspectors-general of the two provinces during meetings with the ECP had said they were short of police force and talked of terrorism threats, making out a case for putting off elections.
The finance division had also expressed its inability to provide funds and the interior ministry told the ECP that the army and civil armed forces will not be available.
On Feb 17, President Alvi had invited CEC Raja for an urgent meeting regarding consultations on election dates but the ECP told him he had no role in the announcement of dates for general elections to provincial assemblies and the commission was aware of its constitutional obligation in this regard.
Subsequently, the president unilaterally announced April 9 as the date for holding general elections for the Punjab and KP assemblies.
The move drew sharp criticism from his political opponents, who accused him of acting like a PTI worker while the ECP said it would announce the poll schedule only after the “competent authority” fixes the date.