ISLAMABAD: A day after the Election Commission postponed elections till October on the pretext of security, a number of lawyers, civil society activists, and politicians condemned the move which was termed “violative of the Constitution”.

In spite of criticism from all quarters, the government spokesperson endorsed the decision which was apparently taken in the “national interest”.

In a statement shared by state-run APP, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the election watchdog decided to postpone the polls to avert a “constitutional crisis” and claimed that the delay in elections would bring political stability.

Ms Aurangzeb said there were reservations among stakeholders that elections could not be “forced” on Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to appease “one person’s ego” and added that phase-wise polls would have created another controversy. She also referred to the census and said that it was not possible to hold elections in two provinces before the census and the rest of the country after the census.

‘Not convincing’

The rationale put forth by the minister, however, did not find many backers.

PBC summons meeting on Monday to take stock of ‘murky’ political situation

Supreme Court lawyer Zahid F. Ebrahim tweeted that in spite of a sound argument that elections should be held across the country on the same day, the justification and decision of the ECP to postpone elections for Punjab is unconvincing.

In a tweet, lawyer Reema Omer said, “ECP interpretation of SC’s ‘barest minimum’ deviation as permission to postpone Punjab Assembly elections by 5-6 months, and its cynical use of Article 254 to justify defiance of a clear constitutional stipulation are both legally flawed and disingenuous.” Ms Omer said the decision would lead to further polarity.

Barrister Asad Rahim Khan termed the decision “violative of the Constitution, a mockery of the law, and contemptuous of the Supreme Court”. “It is also destructive for democracy. This goes beyond voting preferences now: the principle — of the freedom to elect one’s representatives — is at stake,” he tweeted.

Another lawyer, Muhammad Ahmad Pansota sought suo moto action over the move to delay polls in an “illegal and unconstitutional” move.

PTI leader Shireen Mazari said she was not “surprised” by the decision to delay polls since the ECP was acting to keep the “conspirators” in power. In a tweet, former KP finance minister Taimur Iqbal Jhagra said, “The IMF has again contradicted the government’s claims that it is the IMF programme that is making finances for the elections unavailable. Both CS Punjab and Secretary Finance had stated IMF targets as the primary reason why finances for elections wouldn’t be available.”

PTI President Parvez Elahi said the Election Commission committed “contempt of court by postponing the election on the unconstitutional demand of the Pakistan Democratic Movement”.

‘Inverted logic’

Former senator and rights activist Afrasiab Khattak said, “Military dictator Ziaul Haq had used the term ‘positive results’ as a condition for holding elections.” He was responding to a tweet by Aqil Shah, a political science professor and Rhodes Scholar, wherein Mr Shah had criticised the delay.

“Democracy is based on the certainty of elections and uncertainty about who wins. Pakistan’s military has inverted this logic: make elections uncertain and make its results certain,” he added.

A senior lawyer described the situation as “murky” and urged the political parties to show maturity.

“The optics are not good… [it] may lead to any misadventure if politicians failed to show flexibility and accommodate each other,” he feared. He also agreed that either a petition challenging the position of the ECP notification or a contempt plea may be filed in the Supreme Court within a couple of days.

SCBA, PBC condemnation

The Supreme Court Bar Association also opposed the change in polls date and said the ECP’s notification would be taken to the Supreme Court. The SCBA president and general secretary emphasised that ECP cannot change the date for elections under any circumstances made inexplicably clear by the SC its order.

“There is no provision in the Election Act 2017 or the Constitution that allows ECP to conduct elections beyond the 90-day time period stipulated in Article 224(2),” the statement added.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Bar Council stopped short of condemning the move and said a meeting would be held on Monday to take stock of the political situation in light of the ECP decision. “The members of the council are expecting to gather at the PBC office…[for] threadbare deliberations,” PBC’s Chairman Executive Commission Hassan Raza Pasha told Dawn.

Mr Pasha also shared his personal view by stating that he believed elections should be held within the 90-day period after the dissolution of the provincial assemblies but not in isolation rather entire general elections of the National and the provincial assemblies be held simultaneously on the same day.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2023

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