President Dr Arif Alvi on Friday asked Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to direct federal and provincial authorities to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in holding the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections in accordance with the orders of the Supreme Court to “avoid further complications”.

The president made the request in a letter, which comes two days after the electoral watchdog, in a surprise move, put off the Punjab Assembly elections by more than five months to October 8, citing the “deteriorating security situation” in the country. The move was widely condemned by the PTI, legal experts and members of civil society.

In the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the president mentioned the provincial polls as well as the “use of disproportionate force” by authorities against politicians, political workers and journalists.

He said that the prime minister, as the head of the government, was responsible for safeguarding human rights as well as the fundamental rights of every citizen.

“It is further emphasised that all concerned executive authorities of federal and provincial governments should be directed to refrain from abuse of human rights and also to assist the ECP to hold general elections in provinces of Punjab and KP, within the timeframe in compliance of Supreme Court’s order dated March 1 to avoid further complications, including contempt of court.”

On March 1, the apex court had ruled that elections for the Punjab and KP assemblies should be held within the stipulated period of 90 days. It had, 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.

Alvi’s letter said the ECP had approached the relevant Punjab and KP departments regarding holding elections but “it appears federal and caretaker governments in Punjab and KP advised the heads of concerned departments to indicate their inability to provide necessary support for holding general elections.”

Citing Article 220 of the Constitution which states that executive authorities are dutybound to assist the ECP in discharging its functions, Alvi said that a “flagrant violation of the Constitution” had been committed by executive authorities and government departments.

He said the ECP had not implemented his earlier announcement fixing April 30 as the date for polls in Punjab, and had “blatantly violated” the apex court’s March 1 order.

Citing Article 46 of the Constitution, which states the prime minister will keep the president informed on all policy matters and legislative proposals by the federal government, Alvi said: “It is a matter of concern that no meaningful consultation with the president on policy issues has been undertaken by the prime minister in line with the above article.”

‘Glaring violations of fundamental and human rights’

Separately, Alvi also brought PM Shehbaz’s attention to recent events where “glaring violations of fundamental and human rights” were committed so that the latter could ensure remedial measures and preventive actions.

“Your attention is drawn towards the seriousness of these incidents of human rights violations, atrocities of police/law enforcement agencies and grossly disproportionate use of force against the citizens of Pakistan. Multiple fake and frivolous cases have been registered against politicians, workers, journalists and media persons. Houses of political workers have been raided and citizens abducted without warrants and lawful justification.

“The incidents of human rights violations and oppression by state machinery against innocent citizens are in clear breach and violations of fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 4 of the Constitution, that provides for, and guarantees citizens to enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with the law,” the letter said.

It added that numerous constitutional provisions on fundamental rights were being “clearly transgressed”.

“This has tarnished the image of Pakistan in the international community and is casting negative repercussions on the future of democracy and state of human rights in Pakistan,” Alvi said.

Furthermore, the president said Pakistan had dropped 12 points down in the World Press Freedom Index 2022 to 157 out of 180 countries, saying that it reflected the country’s “sorry state of affairs”. He said that “this year’s actions and images thereof will further exacerbate our already dismal ranking.”

“In recent months, media has been further suppressed and journalists have also been subjected to charges of sedition and terrorism to stifle dissent and criticism against the government. It appears that a reign of terror has been unleashed against the media persons who have independent opinions,” the president said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah issued a strongly worded response to the president’s letter, telling him to “stay within his limits and constitutional bounds” instead of becoming a “puppet”.

He said that a “legal and constitutional violator” had been imposed on a constitutional office. Sanaullah called on the president to hold Imran accountable for the PTI government’s track record regarding human rights violations and suppression of the media.

KP governor suggest delaying polls to October 8

Separately, KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali wrote a letter to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja suggesting that polls be fixed for October 8, citing the uptick in terrorist activity in the province.

The governor had earlier fixed May 28 as the date for polls in the province but later backtracked on his decision while calling for “key challenges” to be addressed before a new date is announced.

In today’s letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the governor noted that the Punjab polls had been postponed and a fresh election schedule was to be issued.

“Your good office must note that subsequent to my last letter, [a] fresh wave of terrorist activities had taken place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on [a] daily basis,” Ali said.

He highlighted several terrorist incidents in his letter, including one from earlier this week in which a brigadier from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was martyred during an encounter with “hardcore terrorists” in South Waziristan’s Angoor Adda.

“Since ECP has postponed the election date for the general elections of Punjab province to October 8, 2023, therefore, it is also suggested that same October 8, 2023 be proposed/appointed as election date for general elections of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the best public interest as well as in the interest of the state,” the governor wrote.

ECP delays Punjab polls

In the order issued on Wednesday night, the ECP said that it convened a meeting with intelligence and security officials from Punjab and KP on March 10 and was apprised about their inability to help the commission in conducting the elections, the possibility of election officials being kidnapped during polls and recommended that elections not be held at the present time.

The order said that on March 14, the ECP was informed that the Pakistan Army would not be available for poll-related duties due to the prevalent security situation.

Referring to these briefings on the overall security situation in the country, the ECP order said that currently, only one security man on average was available per polling station due to a “massive shortfall in police personnel” and the non-provision of army personnel as a static force.

“The commission after considering the reports, briefing and material brought before it, has arrived at the just conclusion that it is not possible to hold and organise the elections honestly, justly, fairly in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” the order read.

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