ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif espoused “adherence to the Constitution” on the occasion of Pakistan Day, the federal government on Thursday endorsed the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to delay elections for more than five months — a move described by many, including the major opposition party, as unconstitutional.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) termed the postponement of the polls as “unconstitutional” and asserted that the Constitution guaranteed the holding of elections within 90 days after the dissolution of the assembly or the expiry of its term.
Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved by PTI in Jan this year in a bid to force general elections in the country. However, after a protracted controversy on the date of polls, the ECP — after the intervention of the Supreme Court — initially announced April 30 as the date for elections in Punjab.
‘No to split polls’
Addressing a press conference, Federal Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar said general elections across the country should be held at one time for the sake of political and economic stability.
According to the PML-N senator, the ECP had postponed the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa keeping in view the security, political and economic challenges faced by Pakistan at this juncture.
The law minister claimed that criticism on social media with respect to the ECP’s decision was being levelled without knowledge of the facts. “It is the mandate of the ECP to conduct free and fair elections in the country under Article 218 of the Constitution. The ECP does not consider the current situation as suitable for the polls,” he added.
As he listed excuses for postponing general elections, the law minister said that a surge in terrorism incidents had been witnessed across the country over past few months and the ECP had taken the decision to postpone polls after the state institutions apprised the commission about the security issues. “The security institutions are currently busy at borders, internal security, and census exercise and it is not possible at this time to get heavy deployment for the polls as well,” the minister argued.
Mr Tarar said Article 224 asked for the general elections at the same time across the country, adding that as per Article 254 polls could be postponed due to the extraordinary situation. “There were several examples in the past when elections were postponed due to certain reasons,” the law minister added.
He said the election had been taking place at the same time since 1997. The minister said the general elections could not be taken place without the fresh digital census in the country which would take around six weeks to be concluded.
The minister said two provincial assemblies were dissolved by PTI-led governments in Jan this year just to satisfy the ego of one person – PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
“Imran Khan had violated the Constitution by trying to dissolve the National Assembly on the basis of a worthless letter and never consulted the opposition parties during his tenure,” he said and added that the government would still welcome if Imran Khan approached it for dialogue.
In a statement, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb castigated Imran Khan and said that the Constitution cannot act on the whims of one person who could violate it at any time and dissolve the assembly whenever he wants.
She alleged Imran Khan instigated his followers to injure the law enforcers, attack the ECP, and storm the court premises. The information minister said one person could not dictate when the election should be held and when the decisions should be made.
Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2023
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