Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday asked whether elections had not been delayed in the past beyond the 90-day limit under the Constitution.
He made the remarks during a joint session of parliament in which the minister argued against holding general and provincial elections separately. However, he also asserted that the notion the coalition government was “avoiding” polls was “principally wrong” and that it merely wanted them to be held in a transparent manner.
On March 1, the Supreme Court had ruled that the elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies should be held within the stipulated period of 90 days. It had, however, allowed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to propose a poll date that deviates from the 90-day deadline by the “barest minimum”, in case of any practical difficulty.
On Mar 10, the ECP later wrote separate letters to the president and the KP governor. In the letter to President Dr Arif Alvi, the electoral watchdog proposed dates between April 30 and May 7 for the elections. Alvi later the same day announced that elections in Punjab will be held on April 30.
Meanwhile, KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali had fixed May 28 as the date for polls in the province but subsequently backtracked on his decision while calling for “key challenges” to be addressed before a new date is announced.
Commenting on the topic of polls, Sanaullah said there were differing opinions on conducting elections, and parliament needed guidance from the government and other institutions in this regard.
“Regarding the 90-day limit in the Constitution, I mentioned that April 30 is beyond that timeframe but have elections not been held after 90 or 60 days in the past?” Sanaullah asked.
The minister said that in the 2008 elections, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly was dissolved earlier compared to the rest of the provincial legislatures and the National Assembly. “But the KP Assembly election did not take place 30 or 40 days prior.”
He said that polls were postponed after former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and took place after almost five months.
The interior minister said the 1988 elections were delayed by five to six months due to flooding in the country. He called for taking decisions with “wisdom and foresight” as the country was facing a “fitna” (mischief) — an apparent reference to PTI chief Imran Khan — that desired chaos.
He said free and fair elections were necessary to stop this ‘fitna’, adding that political and economic stability could not be achieved without doing so.
“The current situation is such that after dissolving the assemblies, it is a constitutional obligation to hold elections within 90 days. Although April 30 is beyond that mandate and the constitutional condition is not met if elections are held on April 30,” the minister remarked.
Sanaullah went on to say that the Constitution also stipulated holding “free and fair” elections, adding that it was the electoral watchdog’s responsibility to do so.
Sanaullah said the notion that the government was “avoiding elections” was “principally wrong”, adding that the government only wanted polls to be held in accordance with the Constitution under a caretaker setup for political and economic stability instead of “creating a new crisis”.
The interior minister argued that if any political party came into power in Punjab, it would “reduce the level playing field” for other parties in the general elections.
“Will Punjab not dictate the federal government then? Will that government or party — whether us or someone else — not gain an edge, and won’t the basic constitutional requirement of a free and fair caretaker setup not be violated?”
He said that going ahead with polls in Punjab and KP would set a precedent for provincial elections being held six months before general elections, reducing the latter to a “mere spectacle”.
The interior minister said that elections held at the same time under caretaker setups would provide a “level playing field” to everyone.
Sanaullah also spoke about Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial’s comments from earlier today wherein he said the top court would intervene if there was any ill intention in holding “transparent elections”.
The minister said the ECP and the PML-N were gearing up for elections on the chief justice’s orders.
“We can’t think of rejecting your order […] but is it only the responsibility only of parliament and political parties that elections are free and fair?
“If we are expressing this opinion that such an election will bring instability and anarchy, is this opinion not even worth your consideration and reflection?” he asked.
The interior minister also said that parliament needed guidance and awareness regarding the administrative, judicial and political and economic crises in the country.
He also strongly criticised PTI Chairman Imran Khan and his party at length for the events of the last few weeks.
The interior minister said parliament would provide guidance on this issue, saying that there was a need for the police and law enforcement agencies to be given powers to control and arrest “armed mobs, terrorists and anarchists”.
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