• President settles controversy by picking one of two suggested Sundays • ECP writes to KP governor for election date, in line with SC order • Commission vows to fulfil constitutional obligations following president’s move

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Friday accepted the recommendations of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by setting April 30 (Sunday) as the date for general elections to the Punjab Assembly, hours after the ECP proposed the exercise be conducted between April 30 and May 7, preferably on a Sunday.

The electoral body, which met for a third consecutive day with Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja in the chair, had written to the president suggesting dates for elections in compliance with the recent Supreme Court order that allowed a ‘minimum possible delay’ beyond the constitutional limit of 90 days, in case of practical difficulties.

The Punjab and KP assemblies were dissolved on January 14 and January 18, respectively. Under the law, elections were supposed to be held within 90 days after dissolution — in this matter not later than April 13 and April 17 in Punjab and KP, respectively.

A statement issued by the ECP media wing after the meeting said the commission would fulfil its constitutional and legal obligations after fixation of a date by the president.

Commission vows to fulfil constitutional obligations following president’s move

The commission also wrote to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor following the SC order and said it was awaiting his response.

On January 25, the ECP had proposed conducting polls for Punjab and Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa legislatures between April 9 and 17 and sought an additional supplementary grant of over Rs14 billion for the purpose.

In separate letters sent to principal secretaries to governors of the two provinces, the ECP had earlier suggested elections in Punjab between April 9 and 13, and in KP between April 15 and 17.

Under Article 105(3)(a) of the Constitution, the ECP said, the governor is mandated to fix a date, not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution of the assembly, for holding elections.

The governors of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa had dec­lined to give dates for general elections to the provincial assemblies, advising the electoral watchdog to consult ‘relevant authorities’ and take stock of the current security and economic situation before taking a final decision.

On January 8, President Alvi asked the ECP to immediately announce the date for elections to the KP and Punjab assemblies. “I am of the firm view that there are no such circumstances as may furnish any justification for delaying or postponing of elections, in fact if such postponements of constitutionally mandated elections are evaluated throughout the world in recent history, they have morphed into serious long-term setbacks to democracy,” he wrote to the CEC.

Referring to Article 218(3) that makes it binding on the ECP to ensure holding of fair and free election, the president said holding of elections was ECP’s primary duty. “Thus, it is ultimately the commission, which if fails to discharge its functions and duties, is to be held responsible and answerable for the violation of our constitution,” he added.

He later invited the CEC for consultation on a date for elections to the KP and Punjab assemblies. However, the ECP reaffirmed its decision not to consult the president and the CEC instead of going to the President House for consultation told the commission members at a meeting that the president had no role in the announcement of dates for the provincial assemblies.

On the other hand, President Alvi in a controversial move, which was promptly condemned by the coalition government as ‘unconstitutional and illegal’, fixed April 9 as the date for elections to the provincial ass­e­mblies.

Taking suo motu notice of the issue of fixing dates for the provincial assemblies, the Supreme Court on March 1 directed the ECP to consult with President Alvi for polls in Punjab and KP Governor Ghulam Ali for elections in KP so that the general elections could be held within the stipulated timeframe of 90 days, with a minimum possible delay.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2023

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